Actions

Work Header

Change of Heart

Work Text:

The vampire is trembling in a cell when Wesley finds it.

It's been nearly four years since the careful balance between the human world and the world of the vampires tipped in the vampires' favor, and two since his Slayer was killed. The Council's review had found him negligent -- not of the fact that she died, no, as that's expected, but because of the relationship he'd had with her -- and he'd been reassigned not to the new Slayer, but to the research division.

Not that he'd stood a chance against her of course. Buffy had been remarkably strong of will, even for a Slayer. And her desires had been many. To deny her something she'd wanted had been impossible.

In fact, refusing her something she wanted is the last thing Wesley can recall being unable to do.

A strong will runs in his blood as well.

The small town of Sunnydale, California is overrun with vampires, and there's no one to stop them until the Council steps in with a team -- trained vampire hunters, well armed with crossbows, guns, and a selection of other weapons, at least three of which have been modified or designed by Wesley.

He doesn't go in until things have been dealt with, of course, because the actual killing isn't his job.

There are traumatized humans to deal with -- therapists for them to talk to, relocation to organize -- but that isn't his job either. Wesley goes in because he needs to see the aftermath for himself, needs to know what worked and what failed.

One of the team members comes forward to report in. "Mr Pryce -- the new bullets worked just as expected, sir."

Wesley looks around, adjusting the front of his suit jacket unconsciously as he does so. "And what's the current count?"

"I won't have an accurate count until after the debriefing, sir, but at the moment I believe it's forty seven. Which doesn't include the captures, of course."

"And how many of those?" There's something about the layout of the building that has caught Wesley's attention, and he's sure he sounds distracted, but he needs the numbers even if his brain doesn't care to deal with them at this moment in time.

"Twelve captures, sir. How many do you want to retain for study?"

"I think five should do it," Wesley says, turning and heading for a doorway at the other end of the large room. "No, four. Four. You can dispose of the rest."

The hallway is dim -- a back entrance, or what would just as easily serve as one, although it doesn't seem to Wesley that anyone has gotten this far yet. He stops, listening in the quiet here that is barely disturbed by the sounds of the team in the larger room, and hears nothing.

That's of no consequence. He knows something's there, whether he can hear it or not.

He goes half a dozen paces further, then feels his heart start to beat impossibly quickly as a vampire -- having escaped unnoticed until that moment -- bursts from the shadows, nearly knocking him to the ground as it pushes past him and runs to the end of the hall and out through a doorway he hadn't realized was there until that moment.

There isn't time to call anyone -- if Wesley doesn't follow, this vampire will get away. And if the vampire saw what had happened in the factory, if it knew that there was an organized movement against the vampires and not just random uprisings... all their work to remain unknown until now will have been for naught.

Wesley follows.

The vampire doesn't go far -- the equivalent of three city blocks, perhaps even less --- before it disappears inside another building, this one looking something like an abandoned club.

Slipping inside quietly, Wesley stops and listens. He may not be a soldier, not any longer, but that fact that he's out of practice doesn't mean that he's forgotten what to expect from your typical vampire in the field. As far as he can tell this one doesn't know it's been followed, and his suspicion is confirmed when he finds it standing in the centre of a lush drawing room of some sort.

It takes only one carefully designed wooden bullet through the heart to dispose of the creature. Wesley is, amongst other things, an excellent shot.

This club, seemingly completely empty, appears to have been a home to numerous vampires. There are dead humans here and there, piled up in corners as if the vampires were university students too lazy to take out the trash, and the windows are carefully covered over with thick velvet shades.

Just as he turns to leave, to return to the relative safety of the team, Wesley hears the soft chink of metal on metal.

Cautious again, he parts a curtain, walks a bit further and discovers a staircase leading downward. Descends with pistol in hand.

At the bottom of the staircase, just to the right, is a large cage rather like a prison cell, and inside it is a man who quivers and cringes against the cement wall. There are chains attached to the wall by a metal plate, and to handcuffs around the man's wrists. His shirt is half unbuttoned, and it's clear to Wesley even from where he's standing that this man has been here for some time.

"It's all right," he says, lowering his gun and glancing around for keys. Is this man being held hostage because he knows something that the vampires need, some sort of information?

"Y-you're human," the man says, his dark eyes looking up into Wesley's.

That gives Wesley pause, as the tone implied something he hadn't expected to hear. But before he can answer, he hears his name being called upstairs, recognizes the voice of one of the more experienced team members and realizes he's been followed.

"Down here!" he calls.

The man in the cell cowers further against the wall as two men descend the stairs, the reaction seeming as natural to him as breathing.

Or, Wesley realizes, perhaps not.

"You're a vampire," he says, and knows from the way the creature looks down that he's correct.

But why would other vampires keep one of their own chained in captivity?

The question is one Wesley is curious to find an answer to.

"I want this one for study," he says to the two team members who no doubt thought they'd been coming to his rescue. "Get it out of there and bring it along with the others."

Without another glance at the vampire, Wesley goes back up the stairs as the men begin to follow his orders.

* * * * *

Wesley is grateful that he doesn't often have to leave Council headquarters -- he could do without the flight and the resulting jet lag. Still, when he returns to London he spends only three hours sleeping before returning to the lab, because he knows the new vampires are awaiting study.

They rarely keep the creatures long -- it isn't practical -- and therefore he likes to have as much time with them as he can before they're disposed of. Testing weapons, experimenting with various spells, attempting to understand what completely unrelated vampires have in common with each other -- all of these are of interest to him.

Wesley takes his job very seriously.

One cage exchanged for another, he notes as he enters the lab and sees the more unusual subject in the last cell on the right. The cells here don't include bars -- none of the archaic for the modern Council, thank you very much. Instead the front walls are made of an organic polymer -- many times stronger than glass. They also keep the vampires mildly drugged most of the time, as it's rare that the research team needs them at full capacity.

It's an hour before the end of the second shift when he arrives. Wesley is generally in the lab for all of the first and most if not all of the second, and during all three shifts there are guards at the security doors on the other side of the short hallway. They take no chances -- no subject has ever escaped the lab, and as far as Wesley is concerned, none ever will. In fact, almost one hundred percent of them are eventually dusted within the walls of the lab, and on the rare occasions a vampire is transferred to another location it has always been disposed of within eight hours or so of leaving the lab.

He busies himself with paperwork -- there's always paperwork, often far more than seems reasonable, and he prefers to get it done at once rather than put it off until later, in much the same way he always ate his vegetables first as a child.

Waiting is second nature.

Wesley is quite lost in the details when the last of the lab technicians leaves for the night, barely nodding in response to their polite goodbyes.

Finally getting up to walk the length of the cells, he notes with satisfaction that all of vampires are sprawled in various stages of sleep thanks to the drugged blood they've been fed. It's not until he reaches the last cell that he encounters the subject he's most interested in. The packet of blood is still intact, lying beside the wall farthest from the vampire as if it doesn't care to tempt itself.

"You're not hungry?" Wesley asks, his voice cool and clinical.

"I'm not stupid. I know it's drugged." The vampire is sitting against the right hand wall, knees pulled up to its chest and arms wrapped around its knees. Its voice is rough as though it's been screaming.

"Why do you think that?"

The vampire glances up at him, then back down to the floor again. "I can smell it," it says.

Interesting, Wesley thinks. He's never seen a subject refuse to feed before. They've always been eager, thanks to the fact that they're carefully kept hungry while in captivity.

"If you're going to kill me, just do it and get it over with," the vampire says, sounding as if it would welcome death.

"You're already dead," Wesley points out, starting to turn away.

"I don't want to be kept in a cage anymore," the vampire says. "The Master... he kept me locked up, let the others play with me... and Buffy never came."

Wesley stops and turns back around. "What did you just say?"

"I was supposed to help her," the vampire continues, more as if it's talking to itself than in answer to his question. "Supposed to be... destiny. But she never came."

Going closer, Wesley crouches down so that he can see the vampire's face, convinced that he couldn't possibly have heard what he thinks he heard. "Who? Who were you meant to help?"

"Buffy," it says again, and this time Wesley can't quite keep himself from flinching at the way this creature says the name of his Slayer. "Buffy Summers."

He stands up abruptly, and this time when he turns away he keeps going. "Buffy Summers is dead," he tells the vampire.

Wesley's hand trembles as he leaves the lab.

* * * * *

He's back less than four hours later, keying his way into the lab and exchanging as few words as possible with the security guards, who seem puzzled at his appearance. It's not as if he doesn't keep odd hours at times, but he suspects he may be a bit more wild-eyed than is usual under any circumstances. He hasn't been able to sleep for thinking about what the vampire had said, his mind circling the possibility that it might be true -- that the creature genuinely thinks it was meant to help Buffy in some way -- until he had no option but to come back and learn the details.

The vampire is asleep, still in essentially the same position Wesley left it in, sitting against the wall, but it wakes almost immediately. The initial instinct, to cower and protect itself, is still there as well, clearly ingrained after its indeterminate amount of time kept chained, and it curls itself into as small a space as possible.

"Tell me," Wesley says, when he knows it's cognizant. "Who are you? And how did you know about the Slayer?"

The vampire shrugs with only one shoulder, then coughs, its expression pained. "I was supposed to help her," it says. "Redeem myself."

That surprises Wesley. "Why would you want redemption?"

The vampire coughs again into a closed fist, then wipes its hand on its dark trousers. "To make up for all the stuff I did before."

Wesley hates to be obvious, but the obvious question is the one he wants the answer to. "Before what?"

The vampire leans its head back against the wall, eyes closed.

"I'm not done talking with you," Wesley says sharply. "Before what?"

One eye opens, looking at Wesley in what might be sheer exhaustion. "Before I was cursed with a soul."

Beginning to pace back and forth in front of the cell, Wesley rubs his hand over his mouth and chin, feeling the stubble that's grown in since the last time he shaved.

He knows this. There's something here that he's seen before, even if it's been a very long time.

"Who are you?" he asks again, taking the easy way out.

"What? Can't you tell?" The vampire turns and gets to its feet, slowly and painfully. Awkward fingers unbutton the front of its shirt and pull it open, revealing a chest and abdomen literally covered with vicious looking scars in various states of healing. Some of them appear to be new, and one looks suspiciously as if it might go right through the vampire's torso. It coughs into its fist again, and this time Wesley can see fresh dark blood on its palm when it takes its hand away.

"I'm the Scourge of Europe," the vampire says.

* * * * *

That's enough for Wesley, who, back in the days when the Watchers' Council was more about watching and less about attempting to fight back the tide of vampires with its own hands, studied his history carefully.

He knows all about Angelus, and the things the vampire did.

"You certainly look it," Wesley says, a bit dazed. "Tell me about Buffy."

"I don't know anything about her," Angelus says. "I saw her once. She was supposed to come to Sunnydale and she never did."

Thinking about it, Wesley can almost see what might have been. "Yes, well, perhaps she might have done if she hadn't been killed." He attempts to keep his expression impassive.

But Angelus, even slumped against the wall as he is now, watches him carefully. "You knew her."

And for some reason Wesley admits it. He's not sure why. "Yes."

"What happened?"

Wesley feels like crawling into the bottom of a bottle when he thinks about it, which is why he tries not to. "She was killed by vampires," he says flatly. "By creatures just like you."

Angelus shakes his head. "Not like me. Not anymore."

"Because you say that you have a soul? You actually expect me to believe that?" Wesley spits the words out.

Sliding back down the wall, as if he hasn't the strength to continue standing, Angelus closes his eyes again. "You're telling me with all this fancy equipment," he gestures blindly at the lab, "you can't do some kind of test?"

"Believe it or not, I haven't found a great need for a machine that proves the existence -- or lack -- of a soul," Wesley says, suddenly feeling as weary as Angelus looks.

The vampire opens his eyes, seeming to see meaning there that Wesley wouldn't have expected. "You designed these?" He points toward the room full of machines again.

"Some of them," Wesley says.

Angelus is looking at him with what might be an impressed expression. "You must be smart."

"One doesn't get to be head of research without some degree of intelligence," Wesley says, trying not to feel flattered. But he doesn't receive compliments very often; hearing one, even coming from a killer, makes him feel warm. He remembers that it's late, and that he should go back to his tiny flat and get some sleep if he wants to be back in time for the first shift in a few hours.

Wesley turns and heads for the door of the lab.

"I don't know your name," Angelus calls. Some of the other vampires stir at his raised voice, but that's of no consequence.

He stops. In all his years with the Watcher's Council, he's never had occasion to tell a vampire his name, much less had one request it. "Pryce," he says after a moment. "Wyndam-Pryce."

"Is that what I'm supposed to call you?"

Wesley straightens his spine. "You won't need to call me anything," he says, believing that he's telling the truth. "You won't be here long enough."

Let the vampire make of that what he will.

* * * * *

Wesley carefully avoids Angelus' cage the next day, focusing on the vampires in the cells on the left hand side of the room and being sure not to look in Angelus' direction so that he won't have to make eye contact. He directs his underlings to experiment on the vampires numbers 154 and 155, and it's common enough for him to have them focus on specific subjects that none of them would ever even think about why.

They perform some experiments. There's a fair amount of screaming involved, and the one time Wesley makes the mistake of glancing at Angelus the vampire is curled up into himself in the same spot he'd been the night before.

If nothing else, he can honestly say that he feels no pity for these creatures. The simple fact that they've continued to survive means that they've fed from possibly countless humans. They're no better than animals -- no, they're worse than animals, because in addition to killing for survival they actually enjoy it.

First shift turns into second, which eventually turns into third. Again, it's not until everyone else has left for the night that Wesley goes over to the last cell on the right and looks at Angelus.

After a moment, the vampire raises his head and looks back.

"You haven't fed," Wesley observes. It would be obvious by the fact that Angelus is awake while the other four subjects are asleep, even if a second bag of drugged blood wasn't resting just on top of the first on the other side of the small, enclosed space.

"I'm not hungry," Angelus says, and Wesley thinks that might actually be the first lie the vampire has told him.

"You may not starve to death, but given enough time you'll become very hungry indeed," Wesley tells him. "An extended period of time without blood may result in hallucinations, violent outbursts..." He knows because he's seen it, caused it, here in the lab. There are pages of reports.

"You said I wasn't going to be here long enough to need to know your name," the vampire points out. "So I figure you're going to kill me before I can get that hungry. Anyway... it doesn't matter. I'm ready."

"Ready?"

"To die." Angelus waves his hand slightly. "You know, again. And I've had enough torture to last me as many lifetimes as I've had, so... better sooner than later."

Wesley just looks at him, and to his surprise, the vampire curls up tighter, making himself smaller, less of a target.

"Please," Angelus says, in a soft voice, his eyes unfocused, far away. "It's enough. At some point it has to be enough."

He's so unused to feeling sympathy -- for anyone but himself actually, but most specifically for vampires -- that Wesley doesn't recognize it at first. "You'd be better off feeding," he says. "You'd... there'd be less pain."

Angelus wraps an arm up over his head as if he's protecting himself, and doesn't answer.

* * * * *

It's a bribe, Wesley assures himself the next night once everyone's gone home. He wants information, and he's willing to pay -- in blood -- to get it.

The vampire starts away from him, cringing, when Wesley walks over, and he can't help but marvel that even an incredibly practiced killer like Angelus can be conditioned to behave in such a manner.

"I'd like to talk with you some more," he says. "Ask some questions."

Angelus wraps his arms around his legs and curls up smaller. "Is that what you were doing to them?" he asks, his voice strained. "Asking questions?"

Wesley assumes he's talking about the other vampires, and when he thinks about it realizes that Angelus can't see what happens in the other cells. In fact, none of the experiments they've done over the past few days have been in the lab proper -- they've all taken place in the cells, and therefore the only thing the vampire has to go by is what he hears.

He steps closer -- there's a cutaway window in the polymer wall, large enough so that one can pass small items through, and Wesley takes his offering and slips it through the window.

Angelus looks at it, then at the other bags of blood over against the far wall. "What makes you think I want that?"

"The fact that it's not drugged?" Wesley suggests.

"Why would you do that?" Angelus sounds more curious than disbelieving, although perhaps that's just because he doesn't intend to feed regardless.

Wesley sighs and steps back a bit, thinking that he might seem less threatening that way. "Because I'd like to talk with you and I thought you might be able to concentrate better if you weren't hungry."

There's a very long pause, and then Angelus gets up carefully and comes to get the blood. He goes back to his spot before feeding from the bag, one arm used to shield his face from Wesley's view as if he doesn't want Wesley to see. The vampire wipes his mouth carefully afterward before setting the bag on the other side of his body. "Thank you," he says roughly.

It's the only courtesy Wesley has ever received from a vampire, and that's one more than he ever expected to. "You're welcome," he says, and extends the polite behavior into the next part of their conversation. "Can I... can I ask you some questions?"

"That was the deal, right?" Angelus asks, but he nods.

"Do you really have a soul?" Under other circumstances Wesley would have a clipboard, or a small tape recorder, with which to make record of their conversation, but this seems different somehow. And in any case, some research the night before with rare template books the Council managed to come in possession of last year has already answered this question. Wesley knows there's a vampire with a soul, and there's no reason not to believe that it's the one in front of him now.

The vampire sighs and nods again, then lets his head drop back against the wall. "I made the mistake of killing a gypsy, and her family cursed me. They gave me the soul so that I'd... I don't know, feel guilty, I guess. Well, and probably so that I'd stop killing."

"And did you?"

"What, stop killing? Or feel guilty?" Angelus smiles a little bit, strained and possibly sad. "Yes. Both."

Wesley thinks about this for a moment. "Is that why the other vampires had you chained when I found you?"

Angelus shakes his head a bit. "Not so much that. The Master -- somehow he found out that I was planning to help the Slayer. He locked me up, let the others..." The vampire swallows heavily, "Play with me. It was my punishment."

There are more questions that Wesley wants to ask, but the vampire isn't looking well, and he thinks it might be better to save them for another time. When he looks up again, Angelus is watching him.

"I still don't know your name," Angelus says quietly.

He isn't certain there's a reason not to give it. "Wesley," he says after a moment. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I can get you more blood tomorrow."

Angelus seems to consider that. "It really wasn't drugged," the vampire says thoughtfully, and Wesley frowns.

"I thought you could tell by the smell," he says.

A little smile, possibly genuine, pulls at the corners of the vampire's mouth. "Yeah, I was bluffing."

Wesley looks at him in stunned admiration, unable to help himself. "You were bluffing."

"Well what were the chances it wasn't gonna be drugged?" Angelus asks. "I just..." He sighs. "Like I said, I'd rather it be quick."

It will have to be, Wesley thinks. The lab technicians are starting to question why they aren't experimenting on Angelus -- not that they're aware of who he is -- and chances are they'll begin to get suspicious soon if he continues to put them off. They respect him, but people talk, information spreads.

He's more disturbed than he'd like to be at the thought of letting Angelus be experimented on.

"I have to go," Wesley says quietly, and then adds more words he wouldn't have anticipated. "Good night, Angelus."

The vampire slouches down further against the wall. "It's Angel," he says. "Angelus was... before. Now it's just Angel." He grins then, a terrible sort of sorrowed expression. "Unless you want to call me Puppy."

Wesley nods even though he doesn't quite understand. "Good night then. Angel."

And Angel says, "Good night, Wesley."

* * * * *

The next day Philip, one of the lab technicians on first shift, asks why they haven't started on vampire number 158 yet. Wesley is prepared for the question and gives a rather vague explanation about an experiment he has planned for later than evening when the second shift people are on duty.

When Susan on second shift asks just before dinner break, Wesley tells her that the same imaginary experiment is scheduled for the next morning.

He allows both shifts to believe that the experiment in question will end in the vampire's permanent removal from the system.

All day he thinks, considering his options, worrying at the situation the way a young child worries at a loose tooth. In the few moments he has alone in the lab during the dinner break, Wesley goes quickly to Angel's cell, trying not to feel frustrated when the vampire recoils automatically at his approach.

"If I don't get you out of here, there are going to be more questions," he explains, as Angel looks at him steadily. "Sooner or later -- most likely sooner -- I'll be called to task, and chances are good I'll either be ordered to do my duty or someone else will be put in charge of dealing with you."

Angel swallows. "They don't know."

There's nothing to do but agree with him, since it's the truth. "No. I suspect that telling them would make things worse for you rather than better."

The vampire is doing that thing again, the one where he curls in on himself, attempting to look smaller. "I don't... what do you want to do?"

"I want to take you out of here," Wesley says. The plan is loosely formulated in his head, and he's relatively confident that it will work. If nothing goes wrong. "Tonight, when the building is as empty as possible."

He can see Angel shiver. "Okay."

"You'll have to do exactly as I say," Wesley tells him. "No hesitating. You'll have to trust me."

Angel does hesitate now, for a rather long moment. Then he says, "Okay. I -- I can do that. I can trust you."

Wesley feels absurdly pleased at the idea, and that feeling helps to cover up the concern that he might not be doing the right thing. Risking his career to smuggle out a vampire, soul or no, when his job for the past two years has been to pull them into little pieces to see what makes them tick -- to see what makes them cease ticking -- seems ill advised.

But there's something about Angel that he trusts as well, and the potential value the vampire holds is unquestionable. Just because others might not understand, might not be willing to believe -- that's unimportant.

Wesley has to think of the greater good.

"All right," he says to Angel, his mind racing as he begins to go over the plan yet again. "Tonight."

* * * * *

Wesley tries to explain the plan to him, a couple of times, while frowning, but Angel doesn't get it. He's been tired and hungry and confused and hurt for too long -- his brain doesn't seem to work the way it used to, and he's not sure if it ever will again. So he just nods and does his best to pay attention to the parts that actually require something from him, like standing up and keeping quiet.

He's pretty sure he can do the second part, but he has to admit he's got his doubts about the first.

The plan has something to do with the piece of equipment Wesley brings into the lab right after the rest of the people come back from wherever they go. Probably dinner, judging by the fact that they're a little bit warmer and not quite as awake when they get back. Angel doesn't know if Wesley planned that part of it, but he thinks the other people are less likely to notice stuff, to question, at this time of day than any other.

But right after that, two of the people move to the cell next to his and start up on the vampire in there, and there's a lot of screaming and Angel can't help but close in on himself. He pushes himself into the back corner of his little room -- the screaming is so loud, louder because it's closer this time, and he can't do anything except curl up into the tightest ball possible and shiver for a long, long time.

"Angel," a voice is saying. "Angel."

He blinks, unfolds himself slowly. Everything hurts. Someone was calling him...

"Angel," Wesley says. "It's time."

Blinking again, Angel realizes that the lights in the lab are low, that it's quiet. He struggles to his feet, leaning against the wall, as Wesley slides something and pushes some buttons, and then the front of his cell opens up.

"Here," Wesley says, gesturing at the piece of electrical equipment, like a big empty box now, that he has sitting on a wheeled cart. "Get in."

Angel hesitates, but then he remembers that when he agreed to this -- not like he had any choice -- he'd also agreed not to hesitate. Timing is critical.

Angel stumbles as he crosses from the cell into the actual lab, catches himself, and manages to get into the small metallic... well okay, trading one cage for another much smaller one isn't his idea of a good time, but he doesn't see how he has any choice. If this is a trick -- and he doesn't think it is, because Wesley could kill him just as easily here in the lab, and he knows that's what they do to all the vampires eventually -- Angel's walking into it willingly.

Or at least stumbling resignedly.

Once he's in there, with Wesley closing up the machine, it's not as hard as he thought it would be. It's a small space, sure, but it's kind of comforting. He can pretend he's safe.

"Can you hear me?" Wesley asks quietly.

"Yeah," he says.

"Good. Now remember, don't make any noise -- just sit tight until I say otherwise. This shouldn't take long."

Wesley seems to take his silence as agreement, and the cart begins to roll across the floor. A pause -- a beep and a click, then a muffled whoosh as the door opens. More rolling, another briefer pause. Wesley is talking to someone -- two someones, by the voices, and Angel doesn't listen to the words so much as the tone, waiting for the inflections to change and signify that it's all gone wrong and he's going to be killed.

He hopes they don't kill Wesley too, but it's not like he actually thinks they won't.

Besides, he's ready. He's going along with this because Wesley seems to want it, and because, when it comes right down to it, he's a coward. He doesn't want to hurt anymore, and the thought of being somewhere -- free -- where that doesn't happen is like a beautiful dream. But he knows he doesn't deserve it. He was supposed to help Buffy Summers, and she's dead.

Angel can't imagine there's anything left for him after this.

Then the cart starts rolling again, Wesley saying a polite goodnight to the other people, and Angel lets himself drift. It's quiet now -- the whole building is quiet, and he can hear the faint hum of the lighting but not much else.

A bump as Wesley pulls the cart over something, and then the sensation of the floor dropping out from under him, but slowly. An elevator, he thinks. It stops, and there's another bump and another pause at another door.

Angel can tell they're outside almost immediately, even sealed inside the machine. The smell of the air is so different.

A clicking sound of metal. "We're just behind my car," Wesley says very quietly as he begins opening up the side of the machine so that Angel can get out. "Get in through the rear door and cover yourself with the blanket that's there. I'll shut the door and we'll go. All right?"

He's shaking as he gets up and does as Wesley said, trembling uncontrollably. The car is parked next to some kind of trash dumpster, the dismantled machine right next to it too like it's being thrown away. Looks innocent.

Almost free.

Angel pulls the blanket over himself, and Wesley shuts the door. A moment later, there's the low rumble of the car's engine starting up, and he feels the car start to move.

He closes his eyes and waits.

* * * * *

Wesley's flat, small though it is, is located at just the right distance from Council headquarters. Close enough to be safe from vampires -- although the vampire community seems unaware of the Council as an opposing force, it's more than aware of the fact that this part of London is rumored to be one of the worst places in which to be a vampire. And it's far enough away that he's not likely to see anyone who knows him, and therefore, hopefully, safe for Angel.

It's lucky that the hour is late, because he imagines they'd otherwise be making rather a spectacle of themselves. Angel can barely remain on his feet, but it's clear from the way he flinches back each time Wesley comes nearer that he doesn't want to be touched, and the combination of the two factors means that it takes them nearly ten minutes to travel the short distance to his front door.

Angel leans against the wall as Wesley unlocks the door, and Wesley says, very clearly, "Come in," before gesturing to indicate that Angel should go first. It's less because he's loathe to turn his back on the vampire -- who seems too weak to manage an effective attack in any case -- and more because he's concerned that Angel might fall down in the hallway and he won't be able to drag the vampire inside before someone notices.

With one hand on the wall for support, Angel enters the flat and stands swaying a few feet from the door. "Go and sit down," Wesley says, his own voice surprising in its gentleness.

Angel manages to make it to the near corner of the sofa, where he collapses with a small sound of pain.

"Try to get comfortable," Wesley says, moving toward the kitchen where he has some blood packets in the refrigerator. As he takes them out, it strikes him how out of place they look beside his milk and butter.

When he returns to the sitting room, Angel is hunched over and gasping, attempting to take off his shoes.

"Stop that," Wesley admonishes, then frowns at the way Angel's immediate response is to flinch back and obey. "No," he says, lowering his voice and setting the blood packets on the table. "I meant, let me."

He kneels on the floor in front of the vampire and begins to untangle shoelaces that look as though they haven't been untied in months. It takes nearly a minute to undo the first one, during which time Wesley can't help but notice how tense Angel is, as though the vampire can't bear for him to be that close even though they aren't technically even touching.

"It's all right," Wesley says, still gently. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Angel clears his throat. "Yeah, I know."

It truly is just instinct then, something the vampire has learned and something it will no doubt take time to unlearn.

"Would you..." Angel stops.

Wesley looks up at him as he finishes untying the second shoelace. "Would I what?"

Angel shakes his head, and Wesley can see that his hands, clenched into fists, are trembling.

"Whatever it is, you can ask me." Wesley wants to ease off Angel's shoes for him, but suspects that the gesture would be too intimate for the vampire to handle.

"Tell me? Why you're doing this." Angel's voice is barely above a whisper.

Wesley backs up slightly before standing, trying to be mindful of their close proximity. "You said it yourself -- you're different." It's not anywhere near the whole truth, but he hopes it will suffice for the time being. He picks up the two blood packets on the table and offers them to Angel. "Here. You must be hungry."

Now that Wesley isn't right in front of him, Angel pries his shoes off with the opposite feet, then reaches out tentatively. Wesley sets the packets into them without actually touching the vampire. "Thanks," Angel says.

"You're welcome." Remembering when Angel had tried to create an illusion of privacy for himself the night before, Wesley turns away, taking off his own shoes so that he's not watching Angel while he feeds.

He still can't prevent himself from turning around when the vampire makes a choked noise.

"This is human blood," Angel says, rubbing his mouth with the back of one hand and looking at the packet in the other.

"Yes. It's the same as what you had last night." Wesley is confused. "It isn't drugged."

"But it's human." Angel seems disturbed, and his hands are trembling again, enough so that he seems to feel the need to set both packets down on the table. "I mean, I know last night's was too, but I didn't -- for all I knew that was some kind of last supper before the execution."

"You have to feed," Wesley tells him.

"Not on human blood." Angel says it stubbornly, with more determination than Wesley would have given him credit for.

"Then what? Animal?" Wesley is frustrated -- he has easy access to a supply of human blood at the lab, and finding animal blood is going to be difficult at best. Most humans have converted to a sort of semi-vegetarianism at this point, what with the animals being easy targets for the growing number of vampires as the human population dwindles. The Watcher's Council is willing to pay good money for blood donations, cash that people need and are happy to trade regular pints for.

"Yeah," Angel agrees. "Cow, pig..."

It's only then that Wesley begins to realize that the vampire doesn't know what's been happening. "Human blood is easier for me to acquire," he says, unsure that this is the right time to tell Angel everything. "It's from volunteers, if that makes any difference to you. I've no reason to believe that whoever this blood came from isn't walking around perfectly healthy at this very moment."

Angel's hands are still shaking. "You're sure?"

As sure as he can be. "Yes -- and even if it weren't true, you need it, and it's already here. Even if it had come from someone who'd been killed for the purpose of feeding you -- which I can assure you I wouldn't allow -- your failing to drink it now wouldn't save them."

There are times, Wesley thinks, when the ability to keep his mouth shut would be a distinct benefit. Rather than seeming reassured by what Wesley feels was a perfectly reasonable argument, Angel seems, if anything, more upset.

"It's all right," Wesley says, losing his gentle tone of voice along with his patience. "Just drink it and stop being so absurd."

Predictably, Angel flinches and draws back on himself, and Wesley tells himself very firmly that it's not his problem. He has a use for the vampire, so he appropriated him. That's all this is. The creature owes it to him to keep itself fed.

"I'll expect you to have fed by the time I come back," he says, turning away and heading for the bathroom.

When he returns to the sitting room, the blood packets are empty on the table and the vampire is curled in on himself, arms wrapped around his knees with his face hidden, shaking.

"Thank you," Wesley says, aware that his tone makes it sound more like a pat on the head than actual gratitude. He disposes of the packets and makes himself a quick sandwich, eating it standing beside the sink because he can't be bothered to wash dishes if he doesn't absolutely have to, and goes back into the sitting room to discover that the vampire -- that Angel hasn't moved.

It's late, and Wesley should get a few hours' sleep before returning to the lab in the morning. He has no reason to think anyone will guess that something's amiss, but if he were late, the situation might be different.

"I'm going to bed," he announces, and again Angel doesn't move. Going closer, Wesley looks at him more carefully. "Angel?" he asks, his voice unconsciously lowering. There's no response. He creeps closer still before he realizes that Angel has fallen asleep sitting up, occupying the smallest amount of space possible.

He leaves the lights on in case Angel wakes during the night, and goes to bed.

* * * * *

The next day at work is difficult, even though none of the people Wesley supervises seems interested in his explanation of what happened to #158. They ask more as part of the routine than because they're particularly curious, and nod and move on with their work.

He feels an inexplicable desire to phone his own flat to see if Angel will answer, but he suspects that the ringing will only frighten the vampire, so he resists the urge and focuses very intently on his work instead. By the time he leaves the lab at the end of the second shift, Wesley is anxious to get home.

Unlocking his door, he stifles the impulse to call out Angel's name and shuts the door quietly, re-locking it behind him. He sets the bag of blood packets down on the nearest chair, making a mental note to put them in the refrigerator, and says cautiously, "Angel?"

There's no reply, only silence.

"Angel? It's Wesley." Which is an absurd thing to say -- who on earth else would it be?

Angel appears at the edge of the hallway to his left, startling him by moving out of the darkness so suddenly. "Sorry," Angel says, leaning against the wall with one shoulder as if he's still not feeling very strong. "Didn't mean to surprise you."

"No, it's fine," Wesley says, although his heart is beating a bit too quickly and he's quite sure the vampire can hear it. "How are you?"

"Okay," Angel says. He stays where he is, but his eyes dart past Wesley toward the sitting room. "Stopped coughing up blood. Figure that's got to be a good thing."

"Yes." Speaking of which... Wesley takes that opportunity to go back and retrieve the bag he brought home with him, his movement serving a dual purpose as it allows Angel to come into the room while still maintaining what the vampire must feel is a safe distance between them.

Angel eases himself down onto the sofa with a wince.

"I brought more blood," Wesley says, gesturing with the bag. "Would you like some now?"

The vampire shifts uncomfortably, then nods. "Yeah, that'd be good. Thanks."

Trying to keep things simple, Wesley sets two packets on the table in front of Angel and takes the rest to the kitchen. By the time he comes back the packets are already empty, Angel's face smooth and human again.

"You don't like people to see," Wesley observes.

Angel shakes his head slightly, eyes downcast.

He moves over to pick up the empty packets and Angel flinches away, then immediately apologizes.

"Sorry," the vampire says. "I don't -- I'm sorry."

"It's all right. It's perfectly natural, given what you've been through." Wesley slows down his movements, keeps his voice low and soothing. Neither of these is something that comes naturally to him, but he's hopeful that if he can remain as non-threatening as possible Angel will start to relax around him. "If -- if you'd like to talk about it..."

Angel snorts, then winces and holds a hand to his side. "Believe me, you don't want to hear it."

Wesley's unsure why Angel would think that anything vampires might do -- to humans or each other -- would surprise or shock him, but he nods. "All right. Whatever you prefer." He looks at Angel thoughtfully. "I'd like to look at your injuries," he says.

Startled brown eyes meet his.

"I just want to look," Wesley says, going around the table on the far side to give Angel more time to get used to the idea. He sits down on the table itself, at least a foot of space between his knee and Angel's. "Let me see." His voice is calm, persuasive.

Angel's hands are trembling again as he unbuttons his shirt, but he manages to do it on his own. He slides the fabric apart, revealing a pale chest and skin that would be silken smooth were it not for all the scarring.

Wesley's gaze is drawn to the one wound that still seems to be bothering Angel, the one that looks more shallow now than it did the day before. He knows all about how wounds like this are inflicted -- knows how long they take to heal, assuming one cares to let them. Deliberately, curious to see Angel's reaction, he reaches a hand very slowly toward the vampire's exposed side. "I'm not going to hurt you," he says soothingly, but the reassurance doesn't stop Angel from flinching. "There, it's all right. That's right, I won't hurt you... I want to help..."

His fingertips brush against cool skin and Angel twitches away with a little cry, but Wesley is satisfied for now and pulls his hand back again.

"There. That's all. You did very well." The words don't seem to have much meaning really, but Wesley says them anyway. He tries to say something more practical. "You're healing, but it will happen more quickly if you feed more. You'll feel better."

Angel nods and pulls his shirt closed again, one arm encircling his waist as he shakes.

Wesley slides back away from him before standing up, then moves over to sit on a chair. "Did you get any sleep today?"

The vampire swallows before answering. "Um... some. I think."

"With any luck you'll be able to get more tonight." Wesley watches him, the way he tries to force himself to sit up straighter, to uncurl from the position he retreats to. "What did you do today? Other than sleep."

Angel begins, very slowly, to rebutton his shirt. "Looked around." He glances up at Wesley. "Looked at some books." Hesitates. "Read the paper."

Wesley had left it on the desk in an obvious spot that morning, wondering if Angel would be curious enough to pick it up. "Things have changed," he says.

"Yeah, I kind of got that impression." Angel gives up after the third button, leaving the rest undone so that he can slump against the back of the sofa again. "I was there a long time, I think."

"In the basement of that club? How long?" It's clear that the answer will be a vague estimate at best -- those kept in captivity without a means of telling time generally lose all sense of it, but Wesley still wants to know what the vampire will say.

Angel brings his foot up onto the edge of the sofa, once again moving into the position that will make him smaller, less vulnerable. "Three years?" he says finally. "At least. Maybe more."

Wesley considers this. Three years or more in a cage, chained to a wall. "What did they do to you?" He uses his most clinical tones, attempting to keep emotion from entering the discussion.

Eyes going unfocused and distant, Angel says, "Cut me, stabbed me, burned me. Willow liked matches."

"Starved you?" Wesley asks.

Angel laughs, the sound bitter and dark. "That wouldn't be the most effective torture, would it? Not for me."

It doesn't take more than a few seconds for Wesley to figure out what he means. "They brought you humans and made you feed from them against your will."

Second foot joining the first on the edge of the couch, Angel wraps his arms around his knees. "I tried to... I tried to make it quick. That was all I could do." He glances up at Wesley. "If I didn't do it, the others would have, and they... they would have... it would have been worse. After the first time..."

The room is quiet for a few moments, and then Wesley prompts, "The first time?"

"First time I refused," Angel says, closing his eyes. "They... they pulled her apart in front of me. And she was screaming, and she wanted me to help her, and... there was nothing I could do. I couldn't save her."

The vampire is shaking again, but Wesley is more interested in hearing the end of the story. "And so the next time, you..."

Angel whimpers. "It was just a little kid, almost a baby. She was so small she didn't even know to be afraid until I started begging them not to. No. No, I won't." He sounds as if he's reliving the scene, talking to his tormenters instead of to Wesley. "Please. I'll do anything else, but I can't..." He hides his face in his arms.

"What happened?" Wesley asks quietly, but when there's no response, he raises his voice. "Angel. What happened?"

Lifting his head from the protective circle of his arms, Angel looks just to Wesley's right, not directly at him. "They said if I didn't, then one of them would... hurt her. You know, r-- " He doesn't seem able to form the word. "You know," Angel says.

Wesley remains perfectly still, waiting.

"And I knew if I didn't do it, they'd hurt her until she was dead. She might still be breathing, but inside she'd be dead."

Utter silence in the room.

"So I killed her," Angel whispers, as a tear tracks its way down his cheek. "I had to kill her to save her." He sobs, just once, but when he speaks again he sounds utterly broken. "That," he says, "is what they did to me."

* * * * *

Angel won't say anything afterwards, so Wesley stops trying to persuade him and goes to take a shower. He feels worn out, in need of a holiday that he knows is impossible. He'll settle for a solid four hours of sleep.

He sets a clean towel on the edge of the bathroom sink and goes back to the sitting room, where Angel is curled up in the same spot in which he left him. "There's a towel for you in the bathroom if you'd like to take a shower," Wesley says.

Angel doesn't respond.

"I'm going to sleep," Wesley says, feeling awkward speaking to someone who's essentially ignoring him. "Feel free to wake me if you need anything." Still nothing. "There's more blood in the refrigerator." Not even a twitch. "Good night."

He goes to bed and lies there in the darkness, awake and staring at the ceiling, for a surprisingly long time before falling asleep.

When he wakes, it's to sounds that are unfamiliar in his small flat, and he's slow to recognize where they're coming from and what they mean.

Once he does, however, he goes downstairs to the sitting room -- where the lights are still on -- and where Angel is thrashing in his sleep, crying out and whimpering and attempting to protect himself from phantom torturers.

"Angel, wake up," Wesley says firmly, but the vampire continues to dream. He tries again, louder. "Angel." And he moves to the vampire's side to shake him awake without thinking of the likely consequences of his action.

There's a split second in which he thinks everything's going to be fine, and then he's grabbed by the throat and thrown backward, slammed to the floor with a force that drives all the air from his lungs.

* * * * *

...gonna kill the next vampire...

...Angel is arching his back and screaming, lifting Willow, who's sitting astride him, up off the floor as she lights match after match and drops them onto his chest in tiny flares of searing white-hot pain. The cuffs dig into his wrists as he struggles, and he can feel the skin split and the blood making his arms slick and sticky, but that part's nothing compared to the flames...

...pain, pain...

...he doesn't even know what it is -- some kind of tool, not that it matters since all it's doing it shredding his guts to little pieces, or at least that's what it feels like. A thoughtful look as the sharp pointed tip is pressed against his skin, a popping sensation as the flesh finally gives way to allow entrance to his body, and then the incredible agony of his insides being pierced and torn, the sickening wash of blood in his gut...

...screaming...

...listening while the girl on the stairs shrieks in pain and terror as she's drained, closing his eyes so he doesn't have to watch...

...next vampire that touches him...

...he's turned around against the wall, the cuffs and chains caught between his body and the cool cement, and it's uncomfortable, and that's what he's focusing on instead of the vampire behind him. Because it's easier to think about the way a loop of the chain is caught over his knuckles, rubbing them raw, and how one rough edge of a cuff a slowing working its way through his wrist -- not deep enough to cut off his hand, he wouldn't let it go that far -- he doesn't *think* he'd let it go that far -- but more than enough to hold his concentration. That way he doesn't feel the other stuff. Doesn't hear the sounds...

...and someone's hand shakes his shoulder...

...and it's gone beyond enough into too much...

...and Angel...

snaps, flinging himself upright, heedless of the chains and cuffs. Grabs the vampire and uses their combined momentum to drive him to the floor with a force that impresses and surprises him.

It's the soft exhale of warm breath driven from actual breathing lungs upon impact that shoves Angel back to his senses just in time. He immediately realizes his mistake -- dreaming, not real -- and releases the human's throat, throwing himself backwards and off of the living body he's just tried to crush.

Wesley lies there on the floor, gasping painfully like a fish out of water, but Angel's already across the room, curled up against the wall. He didn't mean to do it, but he doesn't think that will matter.

He can't trust other people not to hurt him, and he can't trust himself not to hurt other people. Can't. He can hear himself whimpering, and he'd run and hide except there's never anywhere to go.

Freedom's just an illusion. It's not real.

After a minute or two, he hears Wesley get up slowly, then sit down on the table not too far away. "Angel?"

He can't do anything but whimper.

"Angel, it's all right. It was my own fault -- I shouldn't have touched you like that. I should have known that your reaction was likely to be something of that sort, especially since you were sleeping."

Pressed against the wall, getting some kind of comfort from the contact, Angel risks a glance in Wesley's direction. "I'm sorry," he says.

"No. It's not your fault." Wesley's sitting there on the table, and he looks okay -- a little bit rumpled, but not hurt. Not angry.

"I'm sorry," Angel says again. "I didn't mean to -- I shouldn't have -- " The grip of the nightmare slowly begins to loosen, and it feels like sanity -- and that's a laugh, and Angel knows it -- is creeping back in. "I didn't know it was you," he says, and then, not knowing if that's enough of an apology on its own, he adds again, "I'm sorry."

"It's all right." Wesley looks like he means it. "I understand."

The thought that it's even possible that that might be true is pretty scary. "Do you think... I mean, maybe it would be a good idea if, you know..."

Wesley waits, then makes a little sound of frustration when Angel doesn't finish. "Contrary to what you might believe, I can't read minds, Angel. What?"

He unfolds himself slightly and extends one wrist, only getting distracted by the scarring on it for a second or two before he remembers what he was supposed to say. "Maybe you should chain me up," he offers.

"Or perhaps I shouldn't touch you unexpectedly when it's something you're sensitive to," Wesley says, standing up and dismissing the idea so casually that Angel gives an actual sigh of relief. "I won't make the same mistake again."

Not knowing why he's arguing for something he doesn't want, Angel says, "You shouldn't trust me."

"Yes, well... you probably shouldn't trust me either." Wesley rubs the back of his neck and smiles a little bit. It makes his face look young.

Realizing he's still holding out his wrist, Angel pulls his arm back in and gets slowly up, using the wall behind him to help keep him upright. "You told me to," he says.

Wesley looks confused. "What?"

"Trust you." Angel can't make himself move closer, so he just stays where he is. The wall is good. "You told me to trust you."

"Oh." Wesley nods. "Yes, I suppose I did."

"But if you want me to stop..." Angel's not serious, but there's something about this gentle kind of teasing that relaxes him. Makes him feel better, more normal.

The way Wesley watches him makes him want to squirm, or something. "No," Wesley finally says. "No. I don't want you to stop."

It's hard, but Angel forces himself to stand up without the support of the wall and go back over to the couch. "You should go to bed," he says, sitting down and pulling his legs up.

He's not stupid. Okay, he can be dense as all hell sometimes, but he's not stupid -- he knows that this, how he's acting, is a reaction to having been chained up and tortured all that time. He can see how he tries to make himself smaller, less of a target. How his body responds with fear instinctively every time Wesley makes an unexpected movement.

It doesn't occur to him to wonder if this stuff is going to go away. It just... is.

Wesley is looking at him again. "Tell me what you dreamed?" It's in the form of a question, but it sounds more like an order.

Angel hesitates. "Just about... you know. Stuff that happened."

"Do you dream about it often?"

He's not sure he likes the way Wesley is talking to him -- it kind of makes him feel like he's still in a cage, not to mention the whole feeling like the subject of an experiment. But he answers anyway. "Pretty often, yeah."

"But normally there'd be no one to wake you." Wesley sounds a little bit more thoughtful now -- that makes it better.

"Normally there'd be someone to wake me up so that they could do something just as bad as what I was dreaming about. Or, you know, something worse." Angel swallows and wraps an arm around his knees.

"And this reaction of yours," Wesley says, gesturing at the way he's sitting. "It's become instinctual, hasn't it." It's like Wesley already knows the answers, which makes Angel wonder why he's asking the questions.

"If by instinctual you mean I can't help it, then yeah." Well, that's not totally true, because he can fight it if he cares enough. To prove it, not just to himself but also to Wesley, Angel lets go of his knees and puts his feet back down on the floor. "I figure it'll fade in time. Once I get used to be out again."

Wesley makes a small noise. "I'm not sure this qualifies as being 'out,'" he says. "It's just a bigger cage." Then he looks... something. Ashamed, maybe. "Not that you can't go out, of course. I just meant that you'd be safer here, at least until you've healed."

Angel nods -- it's not like he's anxious to go out into the city anyway. "No, it's okay. I know what you meant." He remembers, suddenly and without reason, what it felt like to drive Wesley's body to the floor beneath him, hands around his throat, and has to fight the urge to fold in on himself again. "Are you okay? I mean... I didn't hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine." Wesley runs his fingertips down across his throat. "I doubt I'll even bruise."

Strangely, there's a small part of Angel that wants to go over there and check for himself, but it's not a big enough part to make him do it. For one thing, Wesley probably wouldn't want Angel that close to his throat, and for another, Angel suspects he might get close and then suddenly need to move far, far away again.

So he stays where he is.

"Since you're up, why don't you have some more blood?" Wesley suggests.

Angel thinks about it, even though the cold blood is far from appetizing and he's not hungry, because Wesley's right that he'll probably feel better once he heals, and that's not going to happen unless he feeds regularly. "Yeah. Maybe I will."

"Good." Wesley runs a hand through his hair, which messes it up instead of making it neater, unless just-woke-up head is the look he's going for. "On that note, I think I will go back to bed."

He waits until Wesley's gone before wrapping himself into a little ball again.

Angel hates himself for countless reasons -- he doesn't see any particular point in trying to remove this one from the list.

* * * * *

Wesley comes home just after sunset the next night, surprising Angel so badly that he almost falls off the couch when the door lock clicks.

But he forgets to worry about his own reaction when the door opens and he sees the lines of pain on Wesley's face and the way his shoulders are slumped with fatigue. Wesley comes in, closing and locking the door behind him and dropping his jacket onto a chair.

He smiles a little bit, but Angel can tell it's forced. "How are you?"

"Fine. Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Angel gets up, setting the book he's been reading down on the table. He can smell the faint tang of dried blood on Wesley, and he thinks it's Wesley's own. "What happened?"

Wesley moves toward the kitchen. "Nothing happened. I'm fine." The way he's walking, his shoulder held in position so as not to jostle his upper body, tells Angel that he's lying.

Angel follows him and stands in the doorway, watching as Wesley gets out some bottled water and drinks it. "You're hurt," he says.

"It's nothing."

"'Nothing' doesn't break the skin," Angel says, hoping that will be enough to convince Wesley he knows what's wrong without getting Wesley fixated on the fact that there's blood involved.

Wesley sighs wearily. "There was a slight altercation. I'm fine."

Now Angel knows he's pushing it. Knows that he should keep his mouth shut and leave it. But he doesn't. "You aren't fine."

A long pause, then Wesley turns a little bit. "You're very stubborn," he says. "I suppose that's how you survived so long, isn't it."

"Stubborn, stupid," Angel says, shrugging. "Let me see."

"It's not necessary," Wesley says.

"Aw, come on. I showed you mine." It's surprising to him that he can joke like this, but somehow it feels okay. Still, Angel knows he'll back down now if Wesley continues to refuse.

But Wesley looks at him and nods. "All right."

Angel's grateful that Wesley is such a smart guy -- going over away from him and sitting down on a chair instead of walking toward him. There's something comforting in knowing that Wesley has figured out how to save Angel from himself. He starts to unbutton his shirt, and Angel steps closer, tentative.

"We were a bit too sparing with the sedative and one of y-- one of the vampires threw me across the lab." Wesley finishes with the buttons and pulls back his shirt. He's wearing a thin t-shirt underneath it, stained with a tiny amount of dark, dried blood.

With a hand that barely shakes at all, Angel reaches out and touches the fabric with his fingertips. "That's dried on," he says. "You'll have to loosen it with some water before it'll come off." He has a lot more intimate knowledge about stuff like that than he'd like.

Wesley turns slightly in the chair to look up at him, and that's when Angel realizes that he's been standing behind Wesley. Right behind him.

"Do you..." He tries again. "I could get some water? Try to soak it off."

Angel hasn't noticed until just this moment how blue Wesley's eyes are.

"No, it's fine. I can do it," Wesley says, still looking at him.

"I'm sure you can," Angel says. "But that wasn't my question."

Wesley blinks, and Angel can smell the fear on him -- would know that Wesley was nervous even if he hadn't been able to smell it, just by the way the man tenses. "I don't wish to seem ungrateful for the offer," Wesley says slowly. "But..."

"But you don't trust me that much," Angel finishes for him, taking a step back and holding up his hands. "No, it's okay. I get that."

He can see from the expression on Wesley's face that he's thinking, trying to work it all out in his own head. "You trusted me enough to come with me willingly."

"If I'd stayed chances were I was going to be cut into little pieces," Angel points out. "I'm not thinking I had much of a choice." He frowns. "Which isn't to say I don't. Trust you."

"Last night you said that I shouldn't trust you, and now you seem to be saying that I can." Wesley eases his dress shirt the rest of the way off and sets it on the table, then turns to face Angel directly. "I want to ask you something."

That kind of scrutiny is a little bit too much for Angel, who takes a step back to put more distance between them. "Okay."

"What are you most afraid of?"

Angel rubs a hand over his face. He figures Wesley's seen him at pretty much his worst by now, so it's not like there's any point in trying to pretend he's not upset when he is. "I don't know."

Wesley just looks at him patiently. "I think you do."

"I don't know," Angel repeats, then he tries again because he probably owes Wesley that much. He thinks about the instinctive reaction. "Being hurt?"

Shaking his head, Wesley says, "I don't think it's that simple."

"Um... being hurt by other people?"

Him saying that, even though Wesley obviously doesn't think it's the right answer, seems to decide something for Wesley, who turns around again, his back to Angel. "If you wouldn't mind..." he says, gesturing at the place on his back where he's hurt.

Angel goes over and puts some tap water into a cup, then he brings it to the table and sets it down there. Dips his fingers into the water, then pats them very, very gently over the spot of dried blood, letting the fabric soak up the water.

"Do you really think I could hurt you?" Wesley asks, tensing at Angel's touch, which of course makes Angel whip his hand away and step back in reaction. But Wesley just stays there, very still, and after a few seconds Angel is able to make himself move closer again.

"Depends on where I was at the time," Angel says.

"Here. In this flat."

"Well... you could sneak up on me while I was asleep."

"Yes, because that worked so well last night," Wesley says, with the tiniest edge of frustration in his voice, like he thinks Angel is smarter than that.

Which, Angel thinks, just goes to prove how little Wesley actually knows him.

"You're considerably stronger I am, even currently," Wesley continues. "You're faster, you've had more years in which to learn how to fight properly, and I'd daresay you know more about how the human body works than I know about how a vampire's does."

"I don't know," Angel mutters, half under his breath, as he tries to ease the thin cotton fabric away from the injured skin of Wesley's upper back, "Sounded to me like you knew what you were doing." He freezes as he realizes what he's said.

Wesley's voice is matter of fact. "I don't do it specifically to cause pain," he says. "I do it to study the reaction. They're rather different approaches."

Carefully, Angel goes back to his work, finally managing to separate t-shirt from skin. "Okay, so then why do you think I freaked out last night when you woke me up?" He suspects that at least part of it was the dream he'd been having, but he can tell that Wesley's got his sights set on something here, and now he's kind of curious to know what it is.

"I think," Wesley says, moving cooperatively as Angel starts to help him take off the t-shirt, "that you're afraid of losing control. Of being pushed too far."

Standing there with the wadded up and still warm shirt in his hands, Angel looks at Wesley's bare back, smooth skin marred by a deep bruise with a lot of swelling and a small cut that had caused the bleeding. It looks painful but not serious. "What happened?"

"Well, I'd imagine you suppressed -- "

"To your back," Angel says.

"Oh." Wesley pauses like he doesn't want to go into detail. "It's not important, Angel."

There's something about the way Wesley says his name, softly, that makes Angel smile. He touches the edge of the bruise with one fingertip, trying to picture what might have caused it. "Corner of a table?" he asks after a minute.

Wesley turns his head to glance back. The suddenness of the movement makes Angel twitch, even if he does manage to hold his ground. "Yes. How could you tell?"

"Shape of the bruise... where the skin broke..." Angel shrugs, more than a little bit embarrassed. "Lucky guess."

"More than that," Wesley says, turning around slowly and standing up. Angel's not sure if Wesley is moving so slowly so as not to startle him, or if he's really that sore. "I think I'll take a hot shower, see if I can't get the muscles to relax a bit."

"Good idea."

Wesley reaches out to take the shirt from Angel, and after a second or two Angel gives it to him. "Don't worry," Wesley says, and Angel understands that he's not talking him being hurt.

"If that happened... I mean, if I lost control..." Angel hesitates to say it, but he has to. "I could kill you."

Wesley nods. "But you won't. You didn't."

"But I could have."

"But you didn't," Wesley says. "Are we going to stand here arguing about it, or can I go and take a shower now?"

Angel finds himself almost needing to hide a smile, and steps to one side, leaving plenty of room for Wesley to pass by without getting too close.

* * * * *

At one in the morning, Wesley wakes up and can't fall back asleep. It's partially because he has a lot on his mind, but mostly because his back and shoulder are aching and he can't seem to find a comfortable position in which to lie.

He tries for half an hour or so, then he gets up and goes into the small bathroom for some painkillers -- perhaps even slight relief will be enough to let him slide back over the edge into sleep.

Poised in the bathroom doorway as his hand blindly gropes to shut off the light switch after having taken his pills, Wesley glances to see Angel standing in the hall, silent and unmoving. He barely chokes back his surprise. "You really have to stop doing that," he says, a little bit more sharply than he'd intended.

"Sorry," Angel says. "Heard you moving around up here. I wanted to make sure you were okay."

Wesley nods as he feels his heartbeat slow down a bit toward something more natural. "Sore," he says ruefully. "It's a bit difficult to get comfortable. But I'm okay." He's also very aware of the fact that he's standing there in nothing but a pair of shorts, not that Angel seems to notice.

"I could..." Angel hesitates. "I could get you something. Do you need anything?"

"No -- I've just taken some paracetamol. Hopefully that will be enough to let me get some more sleep." He shifts his weight and rubs at his neck a bit, trying to ease the tightness of the muscles there. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you."

Angel shakes his head. "Don't be. I mean... I was already awake."

"You couldn't sleep either?" Wesley thinks about leaning against the door frame if they're going to be there for more than another minute or so, but decides that won't make him any more comfortable.

"No."

They both stand there in silence.

"So... I'll just go back to bed then," Wesley says, pausing long enough so that Angel can stop him if he'd like to, but Angel doesn't say anything, so after a moment Wesley goes back across the hall and into his room, leaving the door opened.

He thinks he hears Angel go back down the staircase, although admittedly it's difficult to know for sure, since the vampire is capable of moving so quietly. It isn't until he begins to roll over and a soft groan escapes him as his shoulder protests that he realizes that Angel is still standing in the darkened hallway.

"Wesley?" The voice is so gentle. So hesitant.

Hitching himself up onto one elbow and stifling the groan this time, Wesley is barely able to make out the dim shape of Angel, framed in the doorway. "Yes, Angel?"

"Sorry. I mean... I was waiting until you went back to sleep. I wanted to... I needed to know you were okay."

"Come in," Wesley tells him, half curious to see if Angel will obey.

Angel does, walking almost silently into the room until he's standing at the foot of the bed.

"Come over here." Wesley gestures to the side of the bed, where there's a chair, and moves a bit so that he's facing that direction.

Again, Angel does as he's told, coming to stand next to the bed. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Wesley says. Then, "Sit down."

Angel's hesitation is so brief that it almost doesn't exist, but Wesley makes note of it because that's the sort of thing he does. When Angel does sit, to Wesley's surprise, it's on the edge of the bed instead of the chair.

Interesting.

"Tell me why you were standing outside in the hall." It's not a request, it's a command, and Wesley expects an answer.

Even with the dim light in the room he can see Angel look down at his hands. "Because I wanted to make sure you were okay."

"Angel, you saw my injury yourself -- you know it's not serious. I may be uncomfortable, but I'm hardly in any sort of danger." He knows there's so much more beneath Angel's surface that he's yet to see, and it fascinates him.

Angel is sitting utterly still. "There are other ways not to be okay," he says finally.

That simple statement is nearly enough to take Wesley's breath away. The thought that Angel could be concerned with his emotional well-being is more than surprising, it's immensely flattering. "Oh," Wesley says, a bit weakly.

"Are you?" Angel asks. "Okay?"

"Yes," Wesley says, because it's true, although God knows having met this particular vampire has thrown his life in a direction he'd never anticipated. "Yes. I'm okay." The room is very quiet for about three heartbeats, then Wesley asks, "Are you?"

He can feel Angel start to tremble almost before he finishes asking the question, but the vampire doesn't respond.

"Angel?" Remaining still himself, as he's not entirely certain what's happening and he doesn't want to frighten Angel, Wesley uses his voice the way he'd use an instrument -- pitching it low but forceful. "Angel. What are you thinking?"

And Angel answers him, although it sounds rather as if he isn't aware that he's actually speaking. "About being chained up," he says. "About... about what they can do to you."

For just a moment, Wesley is concerned that Angel is putting him in that role. "I didn't do anything to you," he says.

Angel doesn't move. "I know."

Wesley tries to think what might help. "Terrible things were done to you," he says slowly, gently. "But they're over now. The vampires that knew you -- that knew what you were -- are gone. No one else knows. You're safe here."

He can still feel Angel's trembling. "Yes," Angel says, although it sounds doubtful, as though he doesn't quite believe it.

"You're safe. No one will hurt you again."

Angel nods.

Wesley realizes that the reassurance needs to go deeper than that. "I won't let anyone hurt you."

"What -- what about you?" Angel asks, even his voice shaking.

"What about me?"

"You won't... you won't let me hurt you?"

Wesley finally understands. "I know you want me to say that I won't let you hurt anyone, but I won't do that. I won't let you hide from reality that way."

Angel gets up, pacing with his arms wrapped around himself. Wesley would like to turn on a light so as to better read Angel's expression, but he knows that this won't be taken well. "I can't do this, Wesley. Not if I think I might hurt someone else -- I can't."

"I didn't say you were going to hurt someone else," Wesley says. "I said that I wouldn't be the one to stop you."

The pacing stops, and Angel glances up at him. "You think someone else can?"

"Yes." Ideally, Wesley would like it if Angel worked this out for himself.

Apparently Angel is too tied up in knots to be able to. "Who?"

He sounds so bewildered that Wesley smiles and reaches out a hand to him. "You," Wesley says.

For a very, very long moment, Angel stands there looking at him. Then the vampire steps forward and touches Wesley's hand, fingertips to fingertips, with an accompanying tremor that seems to run the length of his body.

"I trust you," Wesley says.

Angel sits back down on the edge of the bed, leans forward so that his forehead is touching the mattress beside Wesley's ribcage, and begins to shake so violently that the bed trembles with him.

It isn't until nearly a minute has passed that Wesley realizes Angel is crying.

"There," Wesley says, sitting up a bit and sliding back so that he can lean against the headboard. "There. It's all right."

Angel's crying is totally silent -- it can be, Wesley thinks, if one doesn't have to breathe -- but for some reason that seems to make it all the more painful. His hand is clenched in the blanket, twisting a fold of it in his fist as if some of the grief and sorrow and anger might leave his body through his grip in addition to his tears.

Cautiously, Wesley reaches out, his own hand hovering over Angel's. "It's all right," he says again, confused by the emotions that are stirred in him as he watches this vampire -- this man -- spill his anguish.

Wesley lowers his hand, so slowly that he thinks he can feel Angel's before they're even actually touching.

And after a moment, Angel's hand turns beneath his and holds on.

* * * * *

Angel wakes up quickly -- something he learned to do over some period of time, he figures, and he suspects it will take just as long for the habit to fade, if it ever does. But this time as his surroundings sharpen and focus, he finds himself somewhere unexpected, and it takes him a few what-would-have-been-heartpounding-if-his-heart-still-beat seconds to figure out where that is.

To remember the night before.

He's curled up on top of the blankets on Wesley's bed, with his head resting on some part of Wesley that's warm, and moves with Wesley's even, gentle breathing.

Angel stays still, tries to relax a little bit, because Wesley seems to be sleeping peacefully and he doesn't want to wake him up. He's painfully touched by the fact that Wesley was able to fall asleep with him right there. That's proof, if he needed it, that Wesley had been telling the truth when he said he trusted him.

It's Wesley's thigh his head is resting on. Without even thinking about it, Angel rubs his cheek against it slightly, taking comfort from the contact in a way that he'd thought might never be possible again, not with the way he flinches whenever he thinks -- his body thinks -- someone might touch him.

But this is different -- it feels safe. Of course that might just be because Wesley is asleep, and Angel knows he's asleep and that he'll also know as soon as Wesley wakes up. He does it again, listening to the sound of Wesley's breathing and the faint rhythmic pulse of his heartbeat, and almost instantly there's a tiny but perceptible -- to Angel, at least -- reaction.

Even in sleep, Wesley's body responds, blood flowing purposefully to a part that, in Angel's experience, often seems to have a mind of its own.

Again, strangely, he's not bothered.

Angel hasn't gotten off on anything but pain in years -- not because he preferred it like that, but because there weren't any other options and he wasn't offered any choice. At least once a week, Xander would come in and force him, sometimes up against the wall -- better, because Angel could use the cuffs on his wrists to create a different kind of pain to focus on even as he was scraped raw against the rough cool cement. Sometimes on his hands and knees -- worse, more humiliating, Xander using the position to hurt him, a fist clenched around Angel's balls, crushing them even as he slammed inside again and again.

Willow was worse. She liked to fuck him with whatever was handy, usually something too big and ideally with sharp edges -- she was always happier if the blood was flowing. Reminded him of Dru that way. She liked to play with holy water too -- either pouring it over his cock while she jammed something up inside him, or sometimes just dousing the object with it before she slid it home.

Sick as it is, thinking about it makes Angel hard. But Willow and Xander and the Master are gone, he reminds himself, and this is Wesley, who won't hurt him. Wesley might be a little detached -- and Angel figures that's a part of the whole being a scientist thing -- but he won't do anything to hurt Angel, not on purpose anyway.

Without him even thinking about it, Angel's hand has crept up in front of his face, fingers barely ghosting over the blanket that covers Wesley's erection. Touching it, even so lightly, causes an answering ache in his own groin, but otherwise he stays totally still.

He closes his eyes because he wants to think about it without any distractions. What it would be like to touch Wesley, gently and slowly, with no intention of causing pain. What it would feel like to have Wesley arch under his hands appreciatively. To hear Wesley make small sounds of pleasure. To taste his warm mouth, to feel Wesley moving underneath him...

Angel whimpers and shifts his position so that his head is resting on the mattress instead of Wesley's thigh, his face pressed into Wesley's side like he's hiding. He feels Wesley stir and keeps his eyes closed, not knowing if Wesley will believe that he's asleep.

After a minute he feels Wesley's hand on his hair, stroking over it gently. "Shh," Wesley says, his voice low and soothing. "Shh, it's all right."

He can't bear to open his eyes or move -- he wants to stay right here and let Wesley touch him like this.

"It's all right," Wesley murmurs again. "You're safe."

Angel's chest feels hollow, empty, but at the same time it hurts. It shouldn't hurt, should it? The hole in his gut is all healed up for the most part, and anyway that's not where the pain is. "Wesley," he says, just to hear it out loud.

"Yes," Wesley confirms. "I'm right here."

He makes himself push up onto one elbow so that he can see. Without his glasses on, Wesley looks different. Softer. He'd forgotten that, even though it hasn't been more than a few hours since last night. "Sorry," Angel says, because he is, if any of this makes Wesley uncomfortable, even though he's not really embarrassed himself. "This wasn't... I didn't know that was going to happen."

"It's fine," Wesley says, rubbing his shoulder.

Angel realizes that Wesley's hardly wearing anything at all -- not something that he'd noted the night before, but now it's suddenly something he can't look away from. The smooth skin of Wesley's chest, the paler scar tissue on his abdomen from a wound that looks several years old at least. He reaches out to touch it and Wesley shivers.

"Sorry," Angel says. "I just... what happened? Bullet?"

"Yes," Wesley says, staying still. "It's all right -- it doesn't hurt."

There are memories of putting marks on people, marks much worse than this one, although maybe that doesn't matter since they usually didn't live very long after he did it, back before he got the soul. And yet that seems really far away, like something that someone else did.

Angel touches the faded scar gently, letting his fingers trace over the slight ridges. "How?"

"It's not important," Wesley says.

Gazing into those blue eyes steadily, Angel says, "It is to me."

Wesley looks flustered, but Angel notes that he's watching where Angel's fingers are touching him. "I didn't get out of the way of a bullet quickly enough. It's... a long story."

If there's anything Angel gets, it's not always wanting to go over the painful details, so he lets it go. He's distracted anyway, distracted by how warm Wesley is, and how Wesley's skin quivers with his heartbeat and breathing, and by the smell of Wesley's arousal, hidden underneath the covers and the thin cotton shorts he's wearing.

"Angel?" Wesley says.

"Yeah?" He's too distracted by the fluttering pulse to look up at Wesley's face.

"Would you like to touch me?"

* * * * *

The question does what Wesley had hoped it would -- startles Angel into looking up at him. "I thought I was?" Angel says, sounding confused.

"Well, yes, but that's not what I meant." Wesley shifts his leg slightly, his thigh pushing against the erection Angel has seemed oblivious to despite the fact that it's been there since he woke up.

A soft groan escapes Angel, his hand coming to rest on Wesley's stomach. "You mean... touch you."

"Yes. If you'd like to." Wesley knows he sounds rather clinical about it -- in truth, he is interested to see Angel's reaction to the suggestion. "Or not. It's entirely up to you."

He can feel Angel start to tremble, which doesn't come as a surprise but certainly isn't the outcome he prefers. "It's not that I don't want to," Angel says after a few moments. "I just..."

"There's no hurry," Wesley soothes. "If you'd like to, then take all the time you need. Or tell me that you're not ready, or that it's not your personal preference." He feels relatively confident that this last isn't the case, but one never knows.

"I want to," Angel says, swallowing heavily. His hand moves, but instead of heading down along Wesley's body it skirts upward, over the scar on his abdomen and his chest, touching him with hesitant, careful fingers. One fingertip circles Wesley's left nipple almost teasingly, then pulls back. Angel looks up at Wesley's face again anxiously.

"That's good," Wesley tells him. "You're doing fine."

"Don't want to hurt you," Angel mutters, glancing down at Wesley's chest again and rubbing the pad of his finger over Wesley's nipple, which makes Wesley's heart start beating just a bit faster.

"I don't think that's an issue," Wesley says, "but if it will make you feel better, I promise to stop you if you're too rough." He can't imagine it being a problem -- he doesn't mind rough, not after nearly two years in Buffy's bed and all that a Slayer's strength included, and it's clear that Angel is going to be strict with his self-control.

Angel rubs over his nipple again and Wesley feels a tiny thrum of pleasure. The vampire's hands are cool against his own skin, of course, and what Wesley suspects is a touch Angel considers gentle feels just right to him. "Yeah," Angel says. "I mean... tell me. If I do anything you don't want."

He pinches Wesley's nipple lightly and Wesley feels his cock, already half-hard, respond by twitching. "I will," he says, a bit faintly.

"Tell me," Angel says again. Then he leans in and licks Wesley's nipple, wetting it and blowing cool air over it, making it tighten.

The vampire touches Wesley with something like reverence -- a deep appreciation for the way the human body responds to physical stimulation, and a man's understanding of the way another man's body works. Long slow brushes of fingertips down across his chest and then lower, making Wesley ache, although he tries to remain as detached from it as possible, wanting to see how Angel reacts without the distraction of his own feelings.

As the minutes pass, he notes that Angel's hands tremble less. The vampire does glance up at Wesley's face frequently as if checking to make sure that he's doing the right thing, but he seems to relax a bit.

Angel's hand slides down inside Wesley's shorts, touching his erection very gently, and Wesley barely manages not to gasp.

Still, Angel freezes. Looks up at him. "Is... is this okay?"

"Yes, of course," Wesley says, regaining some of his control. "Go ahead -- touch me."

Again, Angel surprises him, leaning in and mouthing at his cock through the thin cotton shorts, even as one finger inside traces around the tip. "You're warm," Angel says.

Wesley feels his eyelids flutter briefly as Angel grips his erection in a carefully loose fist, stroking up and down. He's meant to be... he forgets what he's meant to be doing. Oh. "No, wait." He makes sure to say it very gently, as the goal here isn't to upset Angel with words.

Angel stops and pulls his hand back. He doesn't seem to be trembling, just waiting as requested.

"I'd like to touch you now," Wesley says, and right on cue Angel twitches.

Angel's expression is uncertain, possibly fearful.

"I touched you just a few minutes ago, as well as the other night," Wesley points out. "And I didn't hurt you."

"Yeah. I know."

"I won't force you to do anything you don't want to do. That's not what this is about." Wesley watches him, notes the now shaking hands.

"Then what is it about?" Angel asks. It doesn't sound as if he actually thinks Wesley's trying to make him do something against his will -- more that he genuinely wants to know why.

It takes a moment for Wesley to put it into words that don't sound as though he views Angel as a test subject. "It's about breaking down what you've been taught," Wesley says. "Showing you that other people can touch you without there being pain involved."

"I already know that," Angel says ruefully, holding up one hand so that they can both see its tremor. "Now if we could just convince the rest of me..."

"We will," Wesley says. "Would you take off your shirt?"

"Yeah." Angel fumbles with the buttons of the pale blue shirt which is one of several Wesley has found for him.

Wesley thinks, although he hasn't realized it until now, that Angel looks very attractive in it. He watches as Angel struggles to undo the buttons without tearing them off, then reaches out a hand, stopping before he actually touches Angel. "Let me do it?"

Angel draws a shuddering and entirely unnecessary breath -- Wesley adds that his mental list -- and nods, letting his hands drop to his sides.

Wesley moves slowly, starting at the bottom of the shirt because that strangely seems less intimate than having his hands near Angel's face. One button slips free easily, then another. "It's all right," Wesley says softly.

When the shirt is hanging open, Wesley leaves it where it is.

"Shh," he says, seeing Angel's trembling along the vampire's pale chest. "There." And he slides his palm over the fine skin, cool and smooth, trying to note Angel's flinch dispassionately instead of allowing himself to feel anything. "Talk to me."

"What -- what do you want me to say?" Angel's voice is shaky as well.

"Anything. What you're thinking... how this feels..." What Wesley is looking for is reassurance that Angel is still here, still with him emotionally and not getting lost in some past haze of memory.

Angel is shivering, but he sounds sane enough when he speaks despite the fact that Wesley is touching his chest more firmly now. "It's okay. I'm okay." He might be trying to convince himself as much as Wesley.

Wesley runs both hands up to Angel's shoulders and then back down along the same path they've just traveled, pausing to rub his thumbs over Angel's nipples, which makes the vampire whimper just slightly, which in turn makes Wesley smile. "Good. Just try to relax."

There's another whimper when he does it again, the sound causing a reaction in Wesley's own body that he tries to ignore.

"Wesley..." Angel says, closing his eyes for the briefest instant.

"Would you like me to stop?" Wesley asks.

The response is swift and definite. "No." More gently, "No. Don't stop."

He'd like to ask Angel to lie down, but Wesley thinks that would be too much. Instead he rubs over the nipples more firmly, then pinches them, seeing them tighten and flush a pale shade of pink.

Angel shudders and gasps, chokes out his name again. "Wesley."

"Yes, Angel," Wesley says, mostly to keep them both talking. "I'm right here." He drops one hand down into Angel's lap, resting it on the tented front of Angel's cotton trousers, and Angel moans in response.

Shifting restlessly, Angel lets his head tilt back a bit. Wesley can feel the cool damp of the vampire's arousal soaking through the fabric, can feel the aching hardness that mirrors his own as he works to undo the front of Angel's slacks with only one hand.

"Please," Angel whispers, as Wesley manages to get the zipper down and slide his hand inside to grip his straining cock. "God, Wesley..."

Angel is shaking, moaning softly, small sounds that might be pleasure and fear combined while Wesley strokes him.

"It's all right," Wesley says again. "Just let it come."

A whimper. Angel's eyes are shut so tightly that it looks nearly painful, his body tense and trembling, both hands clenched into fists. "Wes--"

Wesley feels it at the base of his thumb first, the warning throb of impending orgasm, but nothing else about the rest of Angel's body changes at all as he comes. There's only a low groan of relief.

When the sticky fluid pulses out over Wesley's hand, it smells faintly of tears.

* * * * *

For a long couple of minutes Angel and Wesley just sit there, Angel shivering as the last of his orgasm rolls through him, Wesley's hand still wrapped around his cock, holding it gently.

It feels... nice. Maybe a little weird, but nice.

After another minute, Wesley carefully opens up his hand and pulls back, resting his forearm on his thigh so that his hand isn't touching anything. "Are you all right?" he asks, in that way he has, his voice so soft and textured.

Angel has to clear his throat before he can answer. "Yeah. That was... good. I mean... thanks." He glances from the covers in front of him up to Wesley's face, quick. "Thanks."

Wesley's smile transforms his face -- his eyes crinkle up, and the little lines around his mouth curl like that's the way they're supposed to be. He opens his mouth to say something, and the phone near the bed rings, making Angel twitch toward the foot of it. He doesn't think he's heard the phone ring once in the time he's been here.

With an apologetic look, Wesley gets up, putting on his glasses as he reaches for the phone. "Hello?"

He isn't facing Angel, but he doesn't need to be for Angel to tell that something's wrong. "What! When?" Wesley's shoulders are tense now, and he wipes his hand on his shorts like he doesn't even realize he's doing it. "All right. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. No! Don't go without me."

Wesley hangs up the phone and moves across the room to pull on some clothes.

"There's a bit of an emergency," he says.

Angel can tell he's trying to say he's sorry for having to leave so abruptly while at the same time he doesn't really care, like in Wesley's head he's already back at that building. "Okay. Is there... well, no, I guess there's nothing I can do." He looks down, refastens the front of his pants and starts to button up his shirt.

Wesley is already dressed and leaving the bedroom, so Angel trails along after him, down the stairs and into the front room. "I'm not quite sure what's happening, but if for some reason I'm not able to get home tonight I'll try to let you know. If you don't want to answer the phone, the machine will pick it up. You'll be able to hear the message."

Finishing tying his boots -- not his regular work shoes, Angel notes -- Wesley straightens up and reaches for the large duffle bag that's behind the chair. Angel already knows what's in it because he looked the second day he was here -- weapons, including stakes, a crossbow, and some throwing knives that he might not mind messing around with himself.

Wesley glances at him, and their eyes meet. "Will you be all right?"

Angel feels his lips twitch. "Yeah." He sticks his hands into his pockets, hunching his shoulders and remembering that a few minutes ago Wesley's hand was inside his pants.

Weird how stuff like that works out.

For a second Wesley opens his mouth like he's going to say something, then he shuts it and shakes his head. "Take care," he says finally, then he turns and leaves, closing the door behind him.

Angel doesn't see him again for almost three days.

* * * * *

The first day and night Angel doesn't worry.

Much.

By midnight he figures Wesley probably isn't coming home that night, and he tries to sleep. Eventually he falls into a light doze that he hopes will be interrupted by the sound of a key in the lock, or at the very least the phone ringing. The next thing Angel knows he's waking up; it's late morning and the apartment is still empty.

He tells himself that Wesley is fine and reads all the newspapers he can find -- newspapers that make it clear to him, in a puzzling, twisted way, what the state of world actually is. It hurts his head to think about it. All the ads for protective equipment -- are people actually buying stuff to protect their throats? Shouldn't they get by now that vampires can feed from any part of you? -- and the articles about how to avoid vamp attacks. It's sure news to him that vampires are attracted to bright colors, and he spends a couple of long minutes trying to remember if that was something that had changed when he'd been cursed with the soul, but he eventually concludes that it's not.

In the middle of the afternoon, the phone rings, but no matter how much he curses himself, Angel can't pick it up. The answering machine does though, and after the mechanical message comes Wesley's voice, crackling with a bad connection.

"Angel, it's Wesley. There's been -- and I don't know if I'll -- again if I can." Despite the fact that half his sentences are being cut off, Wesley still manages to sound gentle and comforting. "...something happens, if you need to -- call this number. Tell him I told you -- " And then a phone number, which Angel repeats over and over in his head as he scans the room looking for a pen. More crackling noises over the line, followed by Wesley saying, "Take care," before the line goes dead.

He finds a pen, and opens the desk drawer, grabbing the first slip of paper his fingers close around and scribbling the number down on it.

When he turns it over, he sees that it's a strip of photographs in black and white. Wesley, looking younger and at the same time tougher, wearing a casual shirt instead of the button down ones Angel's used to seeing him in. A Wesley who isn't wearing glasses and who has a blonde girl with thick black makeup around her eyes sitting on his lap, both of them grinning.

She looks different from how he remembers, but Angel realizes right away that it's Buffy Summers.

In the first picture they're looking at the camera, but in the second they're looking at each other seriously, noses almost touching. There's no way for Angel to know for sure, but he imagines that's how they usually look -- serious. That this photo session is some kind of joke, maybe something to cheer them up, or pretend like things are normal.

The third picture on the strip shows Wesley and Buffy kissing, like they've forgotten that they're having their picture taken at all.

He sits there for a long time, looking at the photos. Wondering what happened between them -- if they were still a couple when Buffy died, if Wesley was there at the time. He wonders if Wesley ever talks about it, or if it's just Angel he didn't want to tell the story to.

He puts the pictures back where he found them, remembering where they are in case he needs the phone number on the back.

He goes methodically through the apartment, looking in every drawer, reading everything worth looking at, seeing what he can learn about Wesley. He feels like Wesley's curiosity, the part of Wesley that needs to know, to find out, is infecting him just by being in his space. Of course, as he searches he comes across all kinds of things at least part of him would have been happy to remain in ignorance of, like copies of Wesley's work reports detailing experiments on vampires.

Angel wouldn't have minded not reading the details of what happens when you lock two starving vampires into one cell together, even if he could have guessed it. And he'd rather not have seen photos of vampires who'd had their limbs deliberately cut off just to see how they'd heal afterwards. He goes through files that talk about injecting vampires with all kinds of chemicals, and others that document how many seconds it takes under direct sunlight for a vampire to burst into flames.

It's hard to reconcile the person who does these things with Wesley, who makes such an effort to be gentle with Angel.

That night, he spends three hours tossing and turning on the couch before he creeps up the stairs to Wesley's bedroom. It feels like something he shouldn't do, but he can't help himself. He doesn't actually get into the bed, but he curls up on top of it, letting Wesley's scent surround him.

He sleeps.

* * * * *

On the third morning, Angel has the last of the blood that Wesley left for him. He's still hungry when it's gone, and he starts to consider the fact that he's going to have to leave the apartment, with or without Wesley, pretty soon.

Deep down he's more worried about Wesley than he is about himself. He may not have known him for long, but he already knows Wesley well enough to know that he'd call if he could. Which means he can't. Which means something must be seriously wrong.

He spends the first half of that day trying to convince himself that Wesley will come back, that everything will be fine. It takes him five minutes looking at the answering machine to figure out which buttons do what, and then he wastes another ten listening to Wesley's message repeatedly, trying to see if he can identify any of the background noises (he can't) or understand any more of the words in between the clicks and hisses of the bad connection (maybe two, but not more than that.)

Angel spends the second half of the day trying to convince himself that once night falls he's going to have to go looking for Wesley. The thought scares the shit out of him -- makes his hands shake and the edges of the room go kind of fuzzy -- but it's not like he has any choice.

It's ironic, he thinks, that he's spent the last three years caged and now he's afraid to go out.

It takes Angel more than two hours after the sun sets to work up the courage to take one of the stakes he's found in a closet.

It takes another hour of standing in front of the door, shaking and hating himself, before he can reach his hand out to turn the handle.

But finally he does, and opens the door... to see Wesley standing there, looking... like hell, and holding the key in his hand.

"I was... um," Angel says. "I was just coming to look for you." As soon as he says it he hears how completely and utterly stupid it sounds.

Wesley comes toward him and Angel steps back out of the way to let him in. "I doubt you'd have found me," Wesley says, and his voice is hoarse. "I didn't get back in to London until about an hour ago."

Angel hesitates for only a second before reaching and taking the duffle bag from Wesley's hand. "You should... do you want to sit down? Or something?"

"There's blood in there," Wesley says, like he didn't hear Angel's question. He nods at the bag. "I would have been home sooner but I had to stop by the lab and pick it up."

He wants to ask what happened, where Wesley's been, but Wesley looks so exhausted that he hates to do it. "Maybe... I mean, you should get some rest. Go to bed?"

"I think I will," Wesley says, taking off his glasses and rubbing a hand over his face. Then, more quietly, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Angel tells him, setting the bag down on the table and opening it up to find the blood, only realizing then that he's trembling again. Is it with relief? He's not sure.

"I should have thought more carefully about what I was doing, having you here," Wesley says, maybe regretfully, and that makes Angel shiver with what feels more like fear than anything else.

"I don't have to," he says. It's hard to force the words out. "Stay. If you don't-- "

But Wesley looks at him, put his glasses back on quickly and steps over closer to Angel slowly in a weird combination of opposite speeds that makes his head spin. "No," he says gently. "That's not what I meant."

Angel stands his ground, shaking.

"I meant that I should have made provisions, a plan for what to do if I had to go away suddenly." Wesley reaches out and touches Angel's upper arm, gives it a careful reassuring squeeze, and Angel almost -- almost -- is able to feel it as comfort. "I'm very sorry to have left like that."

Feeling bad for making Wesley feel bad when it's clear that the guy is just about dead on his feet, Angel makes himself nod. "It's okay. We can -- we can talk about it later." By later he might mean tomorrow. Or possibly never.

Wordlessly, Wesley goes upstairs.

Angel puts some of the blood into the refrigerator after feeding on enough to make him feel a little less crazy. Then he goes very quietly up the staircase himself, wanting to see that Wesley is sleeping peacefully, there, okay.

Wesley's bedroom is dark, but that's not a problem for a vampire. Angel can tell right away that Wesley's not asleep though -- his breathing isn't regular enough, and something about the line of his shoulder is too tense. He thinks Wesley must know that he's standing there, and after a minute when Wesley doesn't say anything, Angel figures Wesley must want him to think he is asleep, so he turns silently to go back downstairs.

Wesley sighs very softly behind him. "Angel?"

Angel turns back around. "Yeah?" He can smell the damp of Wesley's hair, water and the faint lingering scent of shampoo that are the proof of the shower Wesley took.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah." Angel fidgets in the doorway. "Thanks for the blood."

"You're welcome."

The apartment is very quiet. After another minute, Angel asks, "Are you all right?"

"Yes," Wesley says, but follows it almost immediately with, "I don't know."

He should help. Angel wants to help. He just doesn't know how. "Do you -- I mean, we could talk about it? If you wanted to."

Another pause. "I don't know," Wesley says. He pushes himself to a sitting position with his back against the headboard. "I don't know what to say."

"Well that's two of us then," Angel mutters, knowing that it's loud enough for Wesley to hear, and he smiles when Wesley laughs a little bit. "Can I come in?"

"Of course," Wesley says, right away.

It's okay that the room is dark. Makes it seem safe, somehow, comforting, like everything's all wrapped up in a blanket, protected. Angel sits down on the side of the bed, in basically the same spot he did the other night, and waits to see if Wesley is going to say anything else.

Their heads are at about the same height, and Wesley's breathing is steadier than it was when Angel was standing out in the hallway. After a minute, Wesley reaches out a hand and touches Angel's chest. Just rests his palm there, over the place where Angel's heart doesn't beat.

It makes Angel feel like a monster. He has to fight not to move away from Wesley's touch, even though part of him craves it at the same time.

"It's all right," Wesley says. "Unless you'd rather I didn't?"

The last thing Angel wants is for Wesley to get the wrong idea, so he gently takes Wesley's hand in his, turns it, presses it to Wesley's bare chest with his own over it. "Rather do this," he says. The warmth and steady heartbeat are soothing. Angel lets his thumb slide to the side and rub over Wesley's nipple. It's not a calculated move, but he still feels pleased when Wesley responds with a small sigh.

Angel wants to taste his skin, wants to tease those nipples into little peaks and hear Wesley gasping underneath him, eager for more. He wants to feel Wesley's breath warm against his own lips.

He wants to not be afraid of what might happen if he did those things.

"Angel?" Wesley says.

"Mmm?" He knows that it's just like last time, so he thinks he knows what Wesley is going to say.

He's wrong.

"Would you -- that is, I'd very much like it if you'd touch me." There's something different in Wesley's voice now, something new. Something Angel thinks he's not quite getting, but that's okay. Because he wants to touch Wesley, and Wesley wants him to, and that might be all that matters for now.

Angel notices that his hands are hardly shaking at all as he slides both palms up over Wesley's chest.

* * * * *

For his part, Wesley notes that Angel seems less tentative than the first time -- not a great deal, but a bit. He's clinging to the normality of this mindset, of looking upon the interaction as a sort of sociological study, or perhaps a psychological one, but absolutely not, under any circumstances, what it actually is.

He wishes Angel would be rougher. A part of him even wishes that the vampire would lose control, push him down, push his way inside where no one's ever been before, hurt him. At least then the decision would be easier to make.

Wesley is, however, very good at deciding what he will and will not think about, so he sets his worries aside and concentrates on how it feels to have Angel touch him.

Strong hands -- bigger than his own, more scarred. They seem perfect though, like just what he's been waiting for. He can't help but wonder how many other men Angel has been with, has touched in similar ways, how many men have begged for him to take them.

How many have begged for their lives.

It seems rather ironic that, at the current time, Wesley thinks the potential of Angel doing something to hurt him is the least of his worries.

Somehow he's lying down, and Angel's mouth is on his chest, cool and wet, feeling more wonderful than anything he could have imagined. He wonders if Angel has avoided his throat for obvious reasons, and isn't certain he cares which one of them it's for. One of his own hands is on Angel's upper arm, holding on, and then Angel's lips and tongue find his nipple and Wesley forgets whatever it was he was trying to keep hold of.

Angel concentrates his attention on that nipple for what feels like a very long time, sucking and licking and oh so gently scraping across it with his teeth, and it's all incredible. The vampire's fingers are teasing the other nipple, rubbing and tweaking it into hardness.

Wesley is gasping, his hips rocking even though there's nothing for his erection to come in contact with but the cotton shorts he's wearing, and he can tell that those are damp with the evidence of his excitement. "Angel..."

Lifting his head, Angel asks, "Okay? Tell me. If it's not."

Surprisingly, he can't seem to say anything, but Angel must be able to see it in his eyes that he's fine, that he wants more.

When Angel's hand brushes over the front of his shorts, Wesley responds with another gasp that makes Angel smile slightly. Angel's mouth moves down along his body, over his ribcage, and then the sensitive skin of his stomach until it settles on his erection, over the fabric but still enough to make Wesley close his eyes.

It doesn't feel, he thinks, as if he's taking his own life into his hands. Or giving it into Angel's. Whichever is the more apt phrasing, not that it matters, since neither is the case.

He feels safe.

Also extremely aroused, because Angel is easing his shorts off, freeing his erection and letting his palm slide along its length slowly, and Wesley's back arches in response, wanting more contact. "More," he says, and looks into Angel's eyes when the vampire glances up at him. "Please," he adds.

And Angel slides down again and mouths at Wesley's cock, still looking up at him as if for approval.

"Yes, good," Wesley manages. "That's very -- very good."

Angel licks a bit around the head, then pulls back. "I don't want to do anything you don't want. I don't... I don't know if I can do this." He's shaking again.

"You don't have to," Wesley says. The last thing he wants, after building this level of trust, is to shatter it by moving too quickly. "Are you worried that you'll hurt me?"

"Maybe," Angel says. A pause. "Okay, yeah. I don't want to get -- I mean, humans are delicate."

"I'm not particularly delicate," Wesley says. "I daresay that a reasonable amount of care on your part would be more than sufficient." He considers their options -- while he doesn't want to push Angel too far, he does want to encourage him to do as much as he can handle. Fears and reactions like this don't just go away on their own -- the brain and body need to be re-educated. "What if you were on the bottom, so to speak?"

The look Angel gives him is one of almost sheer panic.

"Shh," Wesley says. He doesn't reach out to touch Angel, as that seems unlikely to provide comfort at the moment. "I'm not going to force you. I wouldn't do that."

"I know," Angel says miserably.

"Do you trust me?" Wesley asks him, and Angel nods, still looking miserable. "Then come here -- lie down with me. I won't hurt you."

After a moment, Angel does, and Wesley begins to slowly unbutton Angel's shirt one-handed.

"There," Wesley says encouragingly, getting the top four buttons undone so that he can slide his hand over Angel's chest. "You're doing remarkably well, you know that, don't you? Recovering from the sort of thing that happened to you isn't something that's done overnight. You have to give it time..." He rubs across one nipple firmly and smiles at Angel's small gasp.

It's not long before Angel's shirt has been discarded and the front of his slacks unzipped, Wesley's hand down inside stroking his cock as he worries at Angel's nipple with his teeth and tongue, the vampire moaning softly in response.

Wesley removes his hand and kneels up, one hand at either side of Angel's waist. "Here, let's take these off. I'd like to be able to look at you properly." Angel doesn't argue, just moves his body slightly to assist Wesley in the removal of his slacks, which Wesley drops onto the floor.

He's studied male bodies when they were aroused before -- well, male vampires' bodies. He knows what they're capable of -- how quickly they can be brought to a state of arousal again after orgasm, how many times they're capable of orgasm in a given number of hours, how much damage can be inflicted during penetration while still allowing for pleasure.

This is no different, he tells himself as he runs his fingers down over Angel's stomach, skirting his erection and following the length of his thigh. There's still a fair amount of scar tissue in most places, but it's clear that there's been improvement, and Wesley thinks that he can see what Angel will look like when it's gone.

Reaching over Angel, Wesley retrieves the small bottle of lubricant that's been in his chest of drawers for a long time and only on his bedside table for a few days. Then he lies back down next to the vampire, as that will make him seem less threatening -- it's such a complicated series of steps, when one is meant to be neither dominant nor too submissive -- and gives the bottle to Angel.

"Open it," Wesley says gently, and waits until Angel has before holding out his hand, palm cupped.

Angel's eyes are dark with uncertainty as he glances at Wesley's face, but he tilts the bottle and pours a small amount of its contents into Wesley's hand.

And watches as Wesley moves his hand down to grasp his cock.

Angel shudders and moans again, still a small noise as if he's not confident that it's all right to be louder, and Wesley strokes from base to tip just once, noting how different it feels when the skin is so slick. Although he's done this that one previous time, with his hand, it still seems odd to have the familiar sensations in his palm and fingers but no corresponding feeling in his own erection. Which actually, now that he thinks about it, is pressing up against Angel's hard thigh rather pleasantly.

He strokes a few more times, watching Angel carefully to be sure he doesn't take him too far, then slows down the movements of his hand and says, "Put some on your fingers."

Angel does, his trembling hands causing him to spill a few drops, then looks at Wesley for more direction.

Wesley reaches out and takes Angel's hand -- his own fingers tangling with a few of Angel's -- and shifts up on the bed a bit, at the same time guiding Angel's hand down between his legs. Brushes Angel's wet fingertips over his balls lightly, then lower until Angel gets the idea and Wesley can let go and allow him to proceed on his own.

They're big fingers, but Angel is gentle to the point of absurdity, barely touching the sensitive entrance to Wesley's body with one fingertip. Virgin territory, as it were, and yet Wesley is surprised at how just being touched there, even so fleetingly, makes his erection that much more difficult to ignore. Now he's the one trembling, and there might even be a gasp or two as Angel's finger slides inside, breaching him smoothly and with a collection of sensations that makes Wesley groan.

He doesn't allow it to go on for too long, as this isn't about his own pleasure -- and thinking about it as pleasure concerns him, fills him with doubt and confusion.

It's not as easy as he might like to suggest, "That's enough," to stop Angel and get back up onto his knees.

Wesley looks down at Angel, encircles the large erection with his fingers again and pumps it slowly. Then, moving carefully, he brings his leg up and over so that he can straddle Angel's body in a position that isn't exactly dominant or submissive.

"I'm on top," he explains, as Angel looks at him. "If you do anything I don't like, it's a simple matter for me to move away. You don't need to be afraid of hurting me, but it's not as if I can hurt you from here either." Wesley reaches behind him and takes hold of Angel's cock again, raising himself onto his knees and lining things up as best he can considering he can't see and he's never done this before.

"Careful," Angel says, the first thing he's been able to say in quite a while. His hands, resting on Wesley's thighs now, are shaking. "Don't..."

He pushes down, feeling the head of Angel's cock stretch him open and then press against the muscles that don't want to allow entrance, and waits, knowing that it won't be long before the muscles tire and relax.

And when they do, Wesley moves downward slowly, and Angel slides into him, impossibly huge, and everything that Wesley has been trying to do becomes meaningless in the face of this moment.

Angel is the one doing the soothing now. "Okay," he says. "Easy, just take it easy." Wesley can tell from the way Angel's looking at him that there's something in his own eyes that betrays his shock, and that Angel is reading the emotion as pain or maybe even fear.

Easy is simple, because there's certainly no way that Wesley is moving any time soon. "I can -- Angel. I didn't realize..." He sounds like a stunned teenager, but he can't quite bring himself to care. He had no idea it was going to be like this.

One hand rubs up and down along his thigh. "It's okay," Angel says. "Take your time. Or, you know, if it's too much, that's okay too."

Wesley shudders, the force of the tremor moving through him like the orgasm that he's nowhere near at the current time. "It's not too much," he manages to say.

Angel waits patiently, his hand still rubbing Wesley's thigh, and finally Wesley moves up, just a little bit, and the feel of Angel's cock pulling out of him makes them both gasp in unison, but then Wesley is frozen again, unable to move.

"Here," Angel says, putting his hands on Wesley's hips and moving him slightly. Wesley's hands come forward, needing something to brace against, and he finds himself leaning on Angel's broad chest. "Let me..." And the vampire thrusts upward, pushing his cock deeper again, and Wesley moans.

He doesn't care what it is that he's forgotten, or that the world is falling apart outside the walls of this flat, or that in the morning he needs to make a decision that he's ill prepared to make. None of it matters.

Angel holds him like that, gently and with an ease that makes it very clear how strong he is, Wesley's hips suspended there while Angel is the one who moves, pushes, withdraws, thrusts again. It seems to go on for a long time -- until Wesley is making sounds that he knows will embarrass him later if he thinks about them, and his arms are trembling with the effort of holding him upright, and his own erection, occasionally bumping against Angel's stomach on the deeper thrusts, is eager and wet-tipped.

The vampire watches him the whole time, looking at his face as if learning every detail as his hips slide his cock in and out of Wesley, faster now. There's a tightness to his lips, pressed thin, hands tightening on Wesley's hips.

"God, Wesley," Angel groans. "Jesus you feel good. Can't -- gonna -- "

And Wesley's glad, because he wants Angel to come -- wants to feel it -- so when the vampire's rhythm falters, shortly followed by a whimper and a deep throbbing inside of Wesley, he just closes his eyes.

Angel's hips don't stop moving entirely, although they're just rocking gently now, and after a moment Wesley opens his eyes again to see Angel looking at him with doubt written all over his face. Angel lets go of his hips. "I didn't hurt you?"

"No," Wesley reassures him, regaining some of the control that he'd lost and thinking that he should move, that they should stop this now, but it feels too good and he just doesn't want to. And Angel's so aptly named -- he really does have the face of an Angel, so incredibly beautiful... "Don't stop," he says, and it's an order that he makes without thought of how shameful it is. "Don't."

A shallower thrust that glides powerfully over Wesley's prostate, but Wesley doesn't think he can come. Not like this.

Angel proves him wrong when, completely unexpectedly, the vampire pulls him down and kisses him.

* * * * *

So little of this is what Wesley had expected, and yet when Angel's lips touch his a flush of surprise floods through him.

He hasn't kissed anyone since Buffy, and the last time he did that she was dead -- although technically so is Angel, so perhaps that's appropriate. In any case, Angel's mouth catches his, hand sliding up along Wesley's spine as their bodies continue to move together, Angel still thrusting into him and his own erection now trapped between them, rubbing.

"This okay?" Angel murmurs.

Wesley wants to say no, wants to put a stop to this now before it goes too far, but he thinks it's probably already too late for that. So instead he pours himself into the kiss, letting it cloud his mind and quite possibly his judgment as Angel's tongue meets his own.

It's all so good, and Wesley can feel his cock leaving a damp spot along the skin of Angel's abdomen, can feel his body tightening millimeter by millimeter, coiling in preparation for the release that he wasn't anticipating but now seems inevitable. The inside of Angel's mouth is cool and perhaps a bit acidic, and his strong fingers move to Wesley's chest to rub over one nipple again.

That's all Wesley needs -- as if 'all' is simple, as if fingers and cock and mouth are nothing more than a breath of air -- and he comes, clenching his teeth around the cry that wants to escape. He can feel the shudders ripple through him, the wash of hot fluid over Angel's stomach and his own, the way his lower body stops moving even though the kiss they're sharing doesn't pause in the slightest until it's over and he collapses across Angel's broad chest.

Angel's big hand is on the back of his neck, rubbing gently as he gasps for breath and trembles.

"You okay?" Angel asks, the rumble a sound that Wesley can feel.

He pushes himself upright carefully, not entirely sure how this part works. "Yes. Are you?"

The grin he receives in reply would be answer enough on its own, but Angel says, "Yeah. I'm good."

After a moment of awkwardness, Wesley manages to get the two of them separated and himself lying down on the bed beside Angel. He feels a vague need -- honesty combined with proper manners, he supposes -- to say something to the vampire about how incredible that was, but he can't quite bring himself to do it.

He's on his side, facing Angel, and after a moment Angel turns onto his side as well so that they can look at each other. Wesley can't help but note that they aren't touching, and that Angel makes no attempt to change that fact.

The room is quiet again.

"You... you want me to go?" Angel asks, gesturing over his hip. "You should probably get some sleep."

Wesley looks at him -- dark brown eyes with thoughtfully shaped brows, strong nose, small dimple in the chin, thin upper lip. Small worry lines on the forehead now etched deeper because Wesley still hasn't answered. "No," Wesley says, concentrating on the physical because it's concrete and, in the long run, doesn't require anything of him. "No, stay."

* * * * *

Wesley pretends to be asleep for a long time before he actually drifts off, but Angel doesn't let on that he knows, just lies there quietly and waits. He could sleep, but he's too comfortable to. He wants to enjoy it -- the silence. The way his body feels, sated and warm.

The fact that Wesley told him he could stay.

It seems weird to trust someone again. Good, but weird.

He's not sure what the hell is going on -- why Wesley is doing any of this -- and that bothers him a little bit.

Angel waits until Wesley has fallen asleep for real, until his breathing is deep and steady, before moving a tiny bit closer. Not enough so that they're touching, but enough so that if Wesley were to move in his sleep they would be. Angel can feel the warmth radiating from Wesley.

He closes his eyes for a minute, and when he opens them again, it's morning. The room is suffused with pale sunlight, more yellow than white, and Wesley is sitting up on the edge of the bed. His back is to Angel and he's leaning forward with his face in his hands.

Angel pushes up onto one elbow, reaching out a hesitant hand toward Wesley and then pulling it back again without having touched him. "Wesley?" he says quietly.

There's no answer for a minute. Then Wesley says, "Get dressed." His voice sounds cold and far away.

Angel's body responds like it was an order, sitting up the rest of the way. As he looks around for his clothes, he asks, "Why?"

Wesley is already halfway across the room, putting on jeans and a shirt. "Because we're leaving."

"What?"

"Don't argue with me, just do as I say." Wesley finishes buttoning his shirt with his back still toward Angel.

"I'm not arguing," Angel says, finally finding his slacks. "I just want to know what's going on."

"We're leaving, and we won't be coming back," Wesley says. "So if there's anything you'd like to keep, feel free to bring it with you."

Standing up, Angel struggles into his pants, trying to understand what Wesley is telling him. "But this is where you live."

"It has been until now," Wesley agrees, going to the closet and taking out a duffle bag. "Things change."

"Overnight?" Angel watches as Wesley puts a pair of boots into the bag.

"Sometimes," Wesley says. He comes over and sets the bag down on the bed, then goes to the bureau and opens the second drawer down. He empties it quickly, using both hands and letting the socks and shirts fall to the floor with a carelessness that Angel already knows isn't like him.

There's a false bottom in the drawer -- it comes right out and gets tossed onto the floor too. Wesley comes back over to the bed with both hands full -- one with a small plastic case that he puts into the duffle bag, the other with a thick wad of cash.

"Here," Wesley says, peeling off a third of the money and handing it to Angel. "Put that in your pocket."

Angel does. He's still waiting for the explanation, but he's starting to wonder if he's going to get it.

Wesley puts another third of the money into the bag, and the last into his own pocket. Then he kneels down on the floor next to the bed and reaches underneath it, pulling out a flat storage box and flipping the lid off. "You're not getting dressed," he points out, pausing just long enough to glance up at Angel before returning his attention to the collection of guns in the box.

"I'm still hoping you're going to tell me what's going on."

"Angel, there might not be time for this. He said he'd give me until this morning to make a decision, but for all I know he already has people watching this building."

Something in Wesley's voice -- fear, maybe, although it's hidden pretty well -- makes Angel move to pick up his shirt and put it on. "He who? What decision?"

Wesley loads a handgun and tucks it down the back of his jeans, then puts some others into the bag. "He knows you're here, you see," he says quietly, getting up and really looking at Angel. "I'm not sure how, but he knows. And I've been given an ultimatum -- return you to the laboratory first thing this morning, with no questions asked and no further damage to my career, or..."

Angel wants to back away, but he makes himself stand there. "Or what?" he asks, his voice hoarse and shaky.

"Or he'll take you by force."

He's trembling again, and there's nothing he can do about it. "Who?"

Wesley zips the duffle bag shut and then straightens up again. "My father."

* * * * *

Angel's chest feels tight, like his body is too small to contain everything he's feeling. "Your father?" he repeats. "But how... I mean, what..." He doesn't know what he means.

"I'll explain everything," Wesley says, reaching out to touch him, and Angel's either stressed out enough about the other stuff not to care or the instinct to flinch from the touch is fading, because he doesn't even have to try to stand still. Wesley runs a hand up and down his arm soothingly. "I promise. But for now, I'd really feel better if we left."

"Okay," Angel says. He doesn't want to leave -- this apartment is the first place he's felt even a little bit safe in a long time -- but they can't stay. And as much as he doesn't want to, there's something he needs to say before they do. "You don't -- Wesley, you don't have to do this. I mean, this is your... your life we're talking about."

Wesley looks at him, steady, blue eyes cold behind the lenses of his glasses. "This isn't a discussion," he says. "We're leaving." And he picks up the duffle bag, turns, and walks out of the room, like he expects Angel to follow.

And of course, Angel does.

* * * * *

Grabbing a few more things from downstairs, Wesley then puts on his shoes and shrugs into his jacket. He feels stretched thin, strung out, exhausted and jittery, and he hopes nothing significant is going to happen in the next twelve hours or so before he can get some sleep.

He rarely makes the right decisions when he's sleep-deprived, but he tries not to doubt the one he's making now. It's nowhere near as simple as his father had made it out to be, and strangely that is what gives him the most hope. His father, he tells himself, doesn't have all the facts.

Wesley is deluding himself that it would make a difference, and he's aware of that, but he clings to the idea stubbornly, as if doing so might make it true.

He goes to the kitchen, unzips his bag again, and puts the remaining blood that he brought back the night before into it as well.

Angel is following him like a shadow, not saying a word.

"It's daylight," Wesley tells him unnecessarily. "I'll have to bring the car around to the door. Take one of the blankets from the hall closet and meet me there."

He doesn't wait for a reply -- he feels certain that Angel understands the gravity of the situation, or at least as much of the situation as Wesley has chosen to share with him. He takes his bag to the car, looking around warily as he walks across the parking lot but seeing no one suspicious. Unlocks the door, gets in, setting the bag next to him and feeling the reassuring press of the gun against the small of his back as he leans into the seat.

Wesley drives the car to the door, parking it so that the passenger side rear door is closest to the building, and gets out to open it for Angel.

He's well aware of how much sunlight a vampire can tolerate.

When Angel is safely in the back seat, covered with the wool blanket, Wesley gets back behind the wheel and takes a deep breath. "I'm going to start out as if I'm headed for the office. Oh, and there's a loaded gun taped beneath the seat behind you if you need it." Not that a vampire isn't likely to do just as well without a weapon, but still, preparation is key.

Wesley drives with both hands tense on the wheel and an eye on the rearview mirror. Despite this part of London's reputation as a comparatively safe area in which to live, things are different now, and the traffic he would have encountered as little as four or five years ago is virtually nonexistent as they make their way toward Council headquarters. This is a benefit in more ways than one -- fewer cars on the road to concern himself with, and hopefully an easier time identifying ones that are following him, if any do.

"Where are we gonna go?" Angel asks, his voice holding a tinge of fear again.

"I don't know," Wesley says. That's one place where his preparation falls short, even though he spent half the night thinking about what to do. "For now, as far as away as possible. After that..."

"You don't have to do this," Angel says again.

Wesley clears his throat and glances in the mirror again, checking the road behind them. "Yes I do," he says quietly.

"Why?" Angel asks, sounding frustrated. "Don't get me wrong -- I'm really not trying to talk you out of this. I just... I want to understand."

"I can't imagine how you possibly could," Wesley says, aware that his tone is cold but unable to do anything to modulate it. "In any case, I -- " He glances into the mirror again and sees a car behind them.

"What?" Angel asks.

"It's probably nothing," Wesley says. He's reassuring himself as much as Angel.

"What's probably nothing?"

Wesley doesn't reply right away -- just keeps watch, noting that the car doesn't come any closer, maintaining an even distance. "A car," he says finally. "It's probably not following us."

The silence just makes him more apprehensive, but there's no point in talking for the sake of hearing his own voice, so he remains quiet, watching the car. When the opportunity presents itself, Wesley makes a turn down a side street that will take them on a slightly different route but still toward Council headquarters.

The car turns as well, staying behind them.

"It's still there," Angel says flatly, although Wesley knows he can't see and must be basing his assumption solely on Wesley's reaction.

"Yes," he admits.

"Who do you think it is?"

Wesley makes another turn. "If you're asking if it's my father himself, I don't know. It could just as easily be some of his lackeys." He tells himself to think -- it's broad daylight, Angel can only be of so much assistance if they are stopped, not to mention the fact that the vampire will be supremely vulnerable. Wesley isn't certain how Angel would react in a situation where they were in danger -- would he defend himself, or just curl up and wait to be hurt?

"Wesley?" Angel says, and it's clear that he needs something.

"It will be fine," Wesley says, working out what they're going to do even as he speaks. "I need you to listen to me very carefully. Can you do that?"

"Yeah." Angel's voice is shaky but determined.

"There's a section of parking at the facility that's covered -- beneath a sort of roof. I'm going to pull in there and make sure that these people are actually following us, and assuming they are, I'm going to take care of them there. It seems unlikely we'd be able to outrun them, and it's possible that if we try to they'll stop us by force. This way, I may be able to take them off guard. Do you understand?"

He can imagine Angel trembling behind him. "Yeah. I understand. What -- what do I do?"

"With any luck you won't need to do anything," Wesley says. Council headquarters is just ahead, and he turns slowly into the parking lot, taking the car down to a mere crawl. It's likely the first time he's ever been below the posted speed limit, he thinks, and smiles grimly as the car behind them follows.

There aren't any cars beneath the overhang, which is good but not completely unexpected this early in the morning. He pulls into a center spot and shuts the car off, leaving the keys in the ignition and palming a hand into his jacket pocket as he gets out to make it seem as though he's put them there.

He doesn't look at the other car for a moment as it takes the space one away from his, then deliberately glances up and feigns surprise as two of his father's underlings get out. The driver, Philip Adams, is a Watcher, but the other is one of the nameless assistants that cycles in and out from one department to the next, with no one ever quite aware of what his function is.

Apparently in this case it's to back up Philip, who's a going-by-the-book sort that would never dare think on his own unless he had permission from a higher-up.

"Adams," Wesley says mildly. "You're in early."

"Glad to see you made the right decision, Pryce," Philip says.

"Ah, is that what all that was about?" Wesley asks, gesturing back the way they'd come. "I wondered if I'd suddenly developed a fan club."

The second man glances at Philip uncertainly, as if he's not sure what he should be doing, and his hand twitches slightly toward the front edge of his suit jacket, telling Wesley very clearly that the man's carrying a gun.

"We just wanted to make sure you were planning to do the right thing," Philip says. "Is it drugged?"

"The vampire?" Wesley says. "No, of course not."

Another uncertain glance from the lackey.

"Restraints?" Philip says, moving around the rear of his vehicle to come closer. "Is that really wise? I'd think it would have been easier to wrestle it into the car if it were drugged." He peers in through Wesley's window cautiously.

Now or never, Wesley thinks, whipping the gun from his waistband and slamming Philip over the head with it with astonishing force. Philip wears an expression of utter shock for less than a second before collapsing to the pavement with a muffled thump at the same time Wesley turns to point his gun at the second man.

The man is already holding out his own gun, hands shaking so badly that he can barely aim.

"Put it down," Wesley says in a low voice.

"No," the man says stubbornly. "Y-you put yours down."

"I won't hesitate to shoot you," Wesley warns. "Do you really want to risk dying for this? Is it worth it to you?"

Hands shaking more violently, the man is clearly in need of someone to tell him what to do. "I... I don't -- "

"Drop it," Wesley says, and the man begins to lower the gun at the same time there's a click behind Wesley and the car door starts to open.

He's aware of the look of horror on the face of the man in front of him, of the gun raising back up and the finger tightening on the trigger. Without hesitation, Wesley fires his own gun, putting a bullet directly into the man's heart.

There's a second shot and a piercing hot slice like a bee sting across the outside of his upper arm, and Wesley doesn't realize that he's swayed until Angel's arms are holding him up.

"Wesley?" Angel's voice sounds gratifyingly concerned.

"I'm fine," Wesley says, forcing himself to stand on his own feet without assistance. "It's not serious. But we need to get out of here now. Get back into the car."

He doesn't wait for Angel to reply or respond, and by the time he's behind the wheel, the back door has been closed and Angel is huddled beneath the blanket again.

Without wrapping his bleeding arm or allowing himself to think about what's going to come of this, Wesley pulls the car back out of the parking lot and onto the street, heading toward the north of London and hoping beyond all reasonable hope that they'll get out of the city without further incident.

* * * * *

Twenty minutes north of London, Wesley stops the car long enough to get out and rummage through the back for something to bandage his arm with. What he told Angel earlier is true -- it's not a serious wound, just a shallow furrow in the flesh that's been steadily seeping blood. He wraps it tightly with a strip of cloth torn from a spare shirt, then he gets back in and continues driving.

"Does it hurt?" Angel asks.

"No," Wesley lies. It's a small lie -- it only hurts in an annoying sort of way, a constant dull burn. Another thought occurs to him. "Can you smell it? The blood, I mean. Does it bother you?"

"No," Angel says, and Wesley wonders if that's a lie as well. "No, it doesn't bother me."

They aren't being followed now, and Wesley hopes that they'll be able to get far away quickly enough that it becomes difficult to track them.

"What are we going to do?" Angel asks. "You know, for the long term?"

Wesley manages not to chuckle at the assumption that there'll be a long term. "I haven't thought quite that far ahead," he admits. "At the moment my primary concern is short-term survival."

"I can drive," Angel offers. "Um, once the sun goes down. If you want me to."

"You can drive?" He doesn't bother to try to hide his surprise.

"I used to be able to," Angel says. "I figure it's not something you forget."

"I'd imagine that's probably true," Wesley says, adjusting his position in the seat as best he can. "Thank you. I may take you up on that offer at some point."

They fall silent again, Wesley driving one-handed with the other resting in his lap, his arm a nagging ache that doesn't seem to subside with time. Hours and miles pass slowly, the field of his vision narrowing a bit to what's directly in front of him, the steady rumble of the car's engine soothing...

He starts when Angel's hand touches his shoulder. "Wesley?"

"Yes? What? Sorry." Had he been falling asleep?

"You've been quiet for a long time. I just, you know, wanted to make sure you were okay."

The sun is still two or three hours from setting, and Wesley realizes that the past few hours have passed in a weary haze, that he has no memory of them. This isn't good. "I need to stop," he says. "I need to get some sleep."

"Okay." Angel sounds happy to go along with this plan.

They get off the highway at the next opportunity, following old road signs that indicate that there are hotels along this stretch. The first two they pass are closed, windows broken, parking lots scattered with debris -- not uncommon, as so many businesses have failed to ride out the rise of the vampires -- but the third is still open.

"Stay here," Wesley says, not that Angel has much choice in the matter. He checks for his gun before getting out of the car, aware that he's fired only one bullet from it, and heads into the office with its flickering sign to get a room.

The man behind the desk looks tired and jaded. "No, we don't take vampires," he says, before Wesley can even open his mouth. "No demons, no druggies. This is a safe, family run establishment, so you needn't worry about staying here." It sounds like a memorized statement, something that has been drilled into him.

"And I can't begin to tell you what a relief that is," Wesley says. "How much for the night?"

"Fifty pounds for the room, extra ten if you want breakfast in the morning." The clerk's hands are stained with dirt that looks as if it's been ground into his pores, and Wesley shudders at the thought of eating anything he might have touched.

"Thank you, the room is all I need," he says, reaching into his pocket and peeling off a note without removing the folded pile -- the last thing he wants to do is arise any sort of suspicion as to what he's doing with so much cash.

The man takes the note, scribbles a receipt, and slides it across the counter along with a key. "Room twelve," he says. "Check out is at eleven."

"Thank you," Wesley says again, and goes back outside into the sunshine, blinking at the brightness of the facade. He gets into the car again. "All right?" he asks.

"Yeah," Angel says.

He drives over so that they're right beside the room -- luckily it's at the end of the block, as far from the office as possible -- and goes and unlocks the door before returning to the car and opening that door as well. Angel looks cramped and uncomfortable on the floor of the vehicle, crouching with the blanket over him, and Wesley feels a brief and utterly inappropriate stab of pity.

It seems as though Angel is waiting for an invitation, which he certainly doesn't need, and Wesley snaps, "Go on."

Angel obeys quickly, and Wesley sighs and retrieves his bag from the front seat before following, closing and locking the hotel room door behind him.

Angel stands awkwardly over near the wall, watching him, until Wesley sighs again. "I'm sorry," he offers. "I'm tired and sore, but that's no excuse for being short with you."

"It's okay," Angel says, with a little shrug, setting the blanket on the one chair and looking at the bed. "You didn't sleep last night?" he asks, after a moment.

"Not a great deal, no." Wesley sits on the edge of the bed and rubs a hand over his face as if this will somehow relieve the tension. "I was thinking."

"About whether to take me back." Angel says the words flatly but without accusation.

"No," Wesley says. It's mostly the truth. "I was thinking about how to get us both out of the city safely." He begins to take off his jacket -- he'd put it back on after bandaging his arm with the thought that it would help put pressure on the wound -- and winces a bit. "Not that all the time spent thinking about it did much good," he adds ruefully, stopping to reconsider.

Angel comes over closer. "I -- I could help."

Considering where they are and what he's done, Wesley thinks that shying away from Angel now would be absurd, and he's so bloody tired that he barely has the energy to sit up, let alone deal with his injury. "Thank you," he says simply, turning a bit so that Angel can help him ease off the jacket.

It still hurts, but he knows how fortunate he is not to have had something worse happen. He's not prepared to think about the rest of it.

"You want to take this off too?" Angel asks, his fingers gently touching the fabric of Wesley's shirt sleeve.

Wesley looks at the ruined shirt. "I suppose so." The bandage is tied on over the shirt -- he didn't care to attract the sort of attention that removing all of his clothing from the waist up might. "Can you untie this, or do you need something sharp?"

Angel examines the knot carefully. "I think cutting it off would work better. Well, it'd hurt less."

"All right." Wesley turns and opens the bag, taking out a small folding knife and handing it to Angel.

Once the bandage is removed, Angel slowly unbuttons the front of Wesley's shirt, then smoothes it back off of his shoulders and down. They both look at the wound, which is fairly shallow and oozing a small amount of blood. "We should clean this out," Angel says. "Don't want it getting infected."

Wesley agrees, but he's so exhausted that all he wants to do is lie down and sleep. "Later," he says, barely able to keep his eyes open as he moves toward the head of the bed and rests his head on a pillow. The room darkens and his limbs grow heavy, everything lost in the haze of near-sleep. He feels only a moment's guilt that he's leaving Angel alone, and then he's asleep.

* * * * *

Angel waits a little while, until he's sure Wesley is really asleep, then goes back and double checks that the door to the room is locked.

In the bathroom, he finds a worn but clean washcloth and wets it with tepid water from the tap. Wesley is sleeping soundly, his steady breath a warm exhale across Angel's face when he crouches down to look at him.

He uses the damp cloth, very gently, to clean the shallow furrow in Wesley's arm, dabbing lightly -- both because he doesn't want to hurt Wesley and because he doesn't want to wake him up -- that it takes half an hour before he's satisfied with the job. He leaves the wound uncovered -- not that it matters if the sheets get bloody, not that he thinks they will -- and then puts the washcloth back in the bathroom where he doesn't have to smell the blood.

Angel doesn't want to sleep, but there's nothing else to do. He manages to get Wesley's glasses and shoes off without waking him, then he eases the covers out from underneath Wesley and settles them back around the sleeping man's waist.

Taking off his own shirt and shoes, Angel gets in on the other side of the bed, carefully, making sure not to move the mattress too much. It's not dark enough outside that he feels the need to turn a light on, even for Wesley's benefit. He spends a long time watching the curve of Wesley's shoulder rise and fall as he breathes.

Tentatively, Angel reaches out and rests a hand on Wesley's hip, just for a minute. He just wants the contact -- to reassure himself that Wesley's really there, that they're both okay.

He doesn't get why Wesley is doing this for him. Sure, maybe when you've been studying vampires -- which is a nicer way of thinking about it than the reality, which is probably more like 'cutting them up into little pieces' -- and suddenly one with a soul falls into your lap, you're curious. You want to get what makes him tick. Want to see how he's different.

Thing is, Angel's not sure he's really all that different, not right when it comes down to it, and he doesn't like the idea that Wesley has thrown everything away for him.

Just as the sun finishes setting, Angel falls asleep.

There are monsters in his dreams, and he's one of them. There's one part that he dreams over and over again -- that tiny little girl, and her wide brown eyes filled with terror, and the little whimpering sounds that she made when she heard him start begging for her life --

Suddenly he's awake, but he can still hear it.

After a few seconds, Angel realizes that it's Wesley making those sounds, small and scared. He reaches for the lamp on the table next to the bed and manages to get it turned on after only a little bit of fumbling. The bulb isn't strong, but it's plenty to see that Wesley is facing him now, which means leaning on the bad arm. Guess maybe the sheets weren't safe after all.

"Wesley," he says, trying to think of which part of Wesley he can touch that won't scare him more and finally settling on his hand. "Wesley. Wake up."

Wesley's eyes open, confused and pained. "Angel."

"Yeah. You were dreaming."

"Was I?" Wesley's voice is softer than Angel's heard it before. "I don't remember."

Angel wonders if he's lying, then wonders why he'd bother. "Didn't sound like a happy dream."

Wesley rubs a hand over his face. "No, I'd imagine that if it had you wouldn't have woken me." He looks at Angel. "Are you all right?"

Every time Wesley asks him that it makes Angel want to smile. It sounds so genuine, even though there are times when he's not sure it is. "Is there some reason why you're asking me that when you're the one that's bleeding onto the bed?" He can smell it, the sharp tang of fresh blood faint but noticeable.

"Am I?" Wesley still sounds dazed, like he's not totally awake, but he pushes himself up enough so that they can both see the smears of red on the thin sheets. He blinks in confusion. "I remember this looking much worse when I went to sleep."

"Yeah, well... you were also wearing shoes and your glasses," Angel says. "Which are over on that table, by the way."

Wesley relaxes back onto the pillow, with his weight off his arm this time. "Thank you," he says.

Angel looks down. "No. Don't thank me. I'm the reason you got hurt in the first place. I'm the reason you're doing all this."

"It's not that simple," Wesley says. "Not to take away from your self-flagellation, but trust me when I say that there are multiple reasons why I made the decision to do this."

His eyes keep getting drawn back to the wound on Wesley's arm, to the tiny, slow ooze of fresh blood. "Is it about your dad?"

If it's possible for someone to get really still when they were already not moving, Wesley does it. "Partially," he says after a little while.

Angel knows he's not the sharpest bulb in the chandelier, but he gets that Wesley doesn't want to talk about it. "You want me to wrap that up?" he asks, gesturing with his chin toward Wesley's arm.

Wesley does this little thing with his mouth -- not a frown, just a quick twist of his lips. "Is it bothering you?"

"No," Angel says, truthfully enough. "You asked me that before."

"Am I using the wrong words?"

Damn it, Wesley is so smart it almost scares Angel. Good thing they're on the same side. "If you mean do I notice it, of course I do. If you mean does it make me want to... I don't know, starting sucking on your arm, then no." At least, not enough that he's worried about his ability to control it.

"Then no," Wesley echoes, and it takes Angel a few seconds to realize that he's answering the question from before. "It's not bleeding enough to be of any concern." He closes his eyes for a lot longer than a blink, then finally opens them just when Angel thought maybe he'd gone to sleep again. "I'm sorry," he says.

"What for?"

"For not saying something to you last night," Wesley says, looking troubled behind the tired. "I shouldn't have waited to tell you."

Angel shrugs a little bit. He's not sure any of it matters, since it's not like he'd have done anything different either way. He doesn't even know what he'd have done if Wesley had tried to turn him back over to the lab. Fought? Or just curled up and waited for it to be over?

"Tell me what you're thinking," Wesley says. It doesn't sound like an order, like it sometimes does when Wesley tells him to do something.

"I'm still wondering why you're doing this."

Wesley sighs and closes his eyes. "Have you always been this stubborn?" He opens his eyes again, turning his head and looking at Angel. "Yes, I suppose we've been through this before. You'd have to have been."

He doesn't know how to respond to that, so he waits. Wesley closes his eyes again, and settles back into the pillow some more, not like he's trying to relax but more like he's past the point of being able to do anything else.

Just when Angel is starting to think that Wesley is asleep again, Wesley says, "You want to know about my father."

Partially, Angel feels like saying. But he just says, "Well... yeah."

"We aren't..." Wesley keeps his eyes closed. "We don't see eye to eye about most things. It's not just you."

"But couldn't you... talk to him?" Angel doesn't know why he wants to think that knowing he's different, that he has a soul, would make Wesley's father give him a chance.

"It wouldn't make any difference," Wesley says. His breathing is starting to even out again, and his voice is getting fainter. "He doesn't care what I think."

That definitely sounds like it's more about Wesley and his dad than about the situation they're dealing with. The room is quiet again. "Wesley?" Angel whispers after a minute.

"Mmm?" Wesley is so close to asleep that Angel doesn't think he even knows he responded at all.

Angel doesn't know where they're going next, or what's going to happen, but somehow, just looking at Wesley gives him hope. "Thanks," he whispers.

* * * * *

When Wesley wakes up again, it's considerably before dawn, and he feels more rested than he has in recent days. The lamp is still on, and that allows him to see Angel's face as soon as he opens his eyes. The vampire appears to be sleeping.

Vaguely, Wesley recalls a discussion that they might have had. He's not sure if it's real or if he dreamed it. He's not sure what he said. He'll have to remember to ask Angel about it later...

Angel's eyes, too lucid and aware to indicate that he's been doing anything other than lying there quietly, open and meet his. "You okay?" Angel asks.

He shifts slightly on the bed. His arm is sore, but not exactly painful. "Yes. Are you?"

"Yeah."

"Is there a clock?" Wesley asks.

"I don't know." Angel blinks, seems to consider the question for a moment. "It's about four, I think. Two hours until sunrise?"

Wesley smiles a bit. He can see Angel clearly, despite the fact that he isn't wearing his glasses. "I didn't know you could do that."

"What? Tell what time it is?" Angel shrugs, the mattress dipping under his weight. "It's just a guess."

The sheet is drawn casually up over Angel to just above his waist. His chest is bare, and in the faint light from the lamp his scars are considerably less noticeable. There's something about the way his chest and stomach look, pale and vulnerable when Wesley knows just how strong Angel is, that makes Wesley shiver.

"Are you cold?" Angel asks, concerned, his dark eyes going darker with the emotion. He bends toward Wesley, the movement making Wesley's chest tighten with anticipation, but Angel just grabs hold of the blankets at the foot of the bed and pulls them up higher.

"I'm fine," Wesley says, as Angel settles back into his previous position which is, he has to admit to himself, entirely too far away.

Angel is watching his expression, so Wesley tries to school it into something more appropriate, whatever that might be. "You sure you're okay?" Angel asks, just before reaching out a slightly trembling hand to touch Wesley's face.

Wesley closes his eyes instinctively. It might be because he doesn't want Angel to see how eager he is to be touched. "I'm fine," Wesley repeats shakily, then opens his eyes again just as Angel's thumb traces the curve of his lower lip.

"Can I..." Angel moves a bit closer. "I want to kiss you. Can I kiss you?"

Yes, Wesley wants to say, but he can't bring himself to give permission that's quite that explicit. Instead he slides forward, tilting his chin upward invitingly until Angel leans in too and his lips meet Wesley's.

He can feel Angel trembling, but he thinks that he might be as well, so it doesn't matter if it's with desire or the attempt to rein in that desire -- each thought is equally appealing. Angel's lips are strong and cool and barely moist, his hand on Wesley's upper arm comforting as he moves in closer still, the kiss careful and controlled.

"Shh," Angel whispers, licking Wesley's lips, and it takes Wesley a long moment to realize that Angel is the one soothing him. "I've been lying here watching you." Another kiss. "Listening to you breathe..."

Wesley nods slightly into the next kiss, although he's not certain what he's agreeing to other than the fact that he wants this. His arm is aching where it rubs against the sheet, but he doesn't care.

His hands are on Angel's body, eager, anxious. When his palm rubs over the front of Angel's trousers, the vampire groans softly and reaches for the zipper, pulling it down and undoing the button as well, urging Wesley's hand inside to touch his cock. Angel's touch is gentle, careful, leaving plenty of room for Wesley to stop this if he wants to, and that gentleness just makes Wesley need everything that much more.

Angel's erection is very hard, foreskin drawn back along the shaft. It feels good in Wesley's hand. Large. He wants it inside him again, stretching him, filling him, not leaving room for anything but sensation.

In a haze of long, hungry kisses, they both somehow manage to shed their trousers, hands touching freshly bared skin with continued eagerness. Angel remains the slightest bit cautious, not doing anything until Wesley indicates that it's all right with touches of his own.

Wesley doesn't realize until Angel's hand moves slowly down between his legs that they don't have any lubricant, but Angel just kisses him again and says, "Wait here," before getting up and disappearing into the bathroom for a brief moment. He's back before Wesley can even think about complaining, two fingers wet with a cool liquid that smells of flowers pushing into Wesley, making him gasp and writhe.

Angel is over him now, covering his body, kissing his mouth and throat, and Wesley isn't afraid of being bitten. He shifts himself to the side a bit, letting Angel settle between his thighs. He gasps again as Angel's fingers rub over what he knows clinically is his prostate, his body responding in a way that's anything but clinical. "Please," Wesley whispers, ashamed and aching.

"Can I fuck you?" Angel asks, his voice almost a whisper too.

"Yes," Wesley says. "Yes."

Angel's fingers withdraw, and then the blunt hardness of his slick-tipped cock is pushing inside, his mouth on Wesley's accepting the whimpers that escape with every breath. It hurts, the pain tight like a muscle spasm, and Wesley kisses Angel back with every bit of desperation in him, distraction sought from the vampire's lips.

"Shh," Angel says, running a hand down along Wesley's side and then lower, using his strong grip to change Wesley's position slightly, fitting them together so that Angel's erection is embedded deep.

The pain is an intrusion that he welcomes despite the aching wrongness of it. "Angel... I -- "

Angel pulls back, and Wesley's body adjusts and responds, wanting more, begging for it wordlessly with a rocking of hips even as Angel's hand tightens on the back of Wesley's thigh. He surges forward, cock driving even deeper into Wesley.

There's no part of Wesley that wants this to be gentle, but Angel seems to have a different idea. He props his weight on one elbow and kisses Wesley softly, murmurs small words of encouragement that are most likely as much for himself as for Wesley as they find a rhythm.

It's different than the first time -- then, Wesley felt in control, as if he were the one in charge of how he allowed himself to be fucked. This time he doesn't have the comfort of that illusion, but it's all right, because he doesn't want comfort. He wants hard, painful clarity, focus so sharp that it's like having the keenest eyesight imaginable.

There's a certain amount of irony in that, he thinks.

Angel is thrusting into him, long thrusts, slow, strong hand caressing the back of Wesley's thigh even as it lifts him slightly to meet each stroke. Wesley runs his own hands over Angel's chest, marveling at how cool the vampire's skin is, remembering Angel's previous reactions and using that knowledge to his advantage, rubbing over taut nipples with his fingertips.

Angel loses his rhythm -- for a fraction of a second only, but Wesley doesn't fail to notice it. "God," he says, kissing Wesley again.

Wesley slides his mouth down over Angel's jaw, and Angel helpfully tilts his head so that Wesley can kiss his throat, even though it makes the vampire shudder and, as Wesley had hoped it might, move more forcefully.

Wesley gasps at Angel's next thrust. "Please," he says. "Angel..."

That's all it takes for Angel to change their position. Shifting back onto his knees, he holds Wesley's waist with both hands and fucks him, hard and deep. There's nothing for Wesley to hold on to other than the pillow underneath his head, so he grips onto that with both fists and moans as every thrust glances over his prostate, making his own cock harder than it's ever been in his life.

"God," Angel says again. "Wes."

It's gathering in him, his entire body trembling with it, so very close... and then Angel shoves a little bit deeper and Wesley comes, without a single touch on his cock. His cry of release is strained, hoarse, and he feels the fluid land on his stomach as it shoots out of him.

Angel doesn't stop thrusting until the last shudder has left Wesley limp and heavy-limbed -- doesn't allow himself his own orgasm until Wesley's is over. Then Angel closes his eyes, groans, and comes too -- Wesley can feel it, all of it -- his hips jerking forward, his erection throbbing inside of Wesley.

The next few moments are filled with the sound of Wesley's breathing gradually returning to normal, and with the gentle-again touch of Angel's hands on Wesley's body as he carefully withdraws and settles Wesley back onto the mattress. Tentatively -- as though he's sore and unsure -- Angel moves, lies down next to Wesley.

"You okay?" Angel asks.

Wesley starts to laugh, but he knows it doesn't sound entirely natural. "'Okay' is an entirely insufficient word under the circumstances."

Angel looks concerned. "Did -- did I hurt you?"

"No," Wesley hastens to reassure him. "No, not at all." He's gloriously sore, but won't breathe a word of that in case it means Angel will refuse to do it again. "What about you? Are you all right?"

"Yeah," Angel says, pushing himself up onto one elbow and looking at Wesley with what might very well be an unhealthy sort of devotion.

Wesley isn't sure that he can bring himself to dislike that.

* * * * *

They shower together, quickly because Wesley wants them to get on the road again before the sun rises. He winces when the water hits his arm, turning his face away like he doesn't want Angel to see his expression, like he's hiding.

Angel lets him. He knows about needing to hide.

He helps Wesley put a bandage on the wound -- mostly because blood isn't a good thing to smell like if you don't want to attract attention, but also because Angel doesn't like the thought of it hurting Wesley every time the sleeve of his shirt moves across it. Then they slip out, leaving the room unlocked and the key on the bed, and go out to the car.

"I could drive," Angel offers, tossing Wesley's blanket into the back as Wesley puts the bag into the front seat. "For the first hour, anyway."

"That's all right," Wesley says. "I'm fine with -- " He pauses, frozen, and it isn't until then that Angel hears it too, a faint click.

Later he'll curse himself for not having paid more attention -- for failing to have noticed, for letting himself relax to the point where it put them both -- but much more importantly, Wesley -- in danger. But at that moment, all Angel can think to do is turn around and put his own body in front of Wesley's, trying to protect him from the group of men that are wearing suits, some of them holding guns and crossbows.

"Hello, Father," Wesley says, more calmly than Angel would have guessed he'd be able to manage.

The guy that must be Wesley's dad steps forward. He's wearing a gray suit and a tie, and Angel can smell the condescension all over him. "What do you think you're doing?"

"I'd think that would be obvious," Wesley says, very slowly, like he knows he's saying something his dad isn't going to like. "Father, this is Angel. Angel, my father, Roger Wyndam-Pryce."

Doing a pretty good job of ignoring Angel considering he's standing right there, Roger says, "I can't say I'm surprised. After the fiasco with Miss Summers, I've been waiting for you to do something like this."

"Really?" Wesley says, feigning surprise. "I'd no idea that you had so little faith in me." He's still half behind Angel, at least, not that Angel has any idea what to do. He can feel himself trembling again, but maybe this time there's going to be a use for this restless energy.

"Turn it over to me, and we can talk about what sort of reprimand will be the result of your poor judgment," Roger says, glancing at one of the men beside him and then gesturing with his head in Angel and Wesley's direction.

Wesley still sounds calm. "No."

The man hesitates, two steps closer to Wesley than he'd been before, but waiting to see what Wesley's father decides.

"You're not doing this, Wesley. Show some sense for once in your life."

"I've always had sense," Wesley says. He shifts almost imperceptibly behind Angel, who can hear the faint sound of a zipper being undone very slowly. "I've done everything you've ever asked of me. If I've been a disappointment, it's only because there have been times when I've lived down to your expectations."

Roger looks furious, his face reddened. "This isn't a discussion. We're taking the vampire."

"No," Wesley says again. "You're not."

Fast -- faster than Angel would have given him credit for -- Wesley pulls a gun out from behind him, stepping to one side so that he can aim it at his father.

"You do realize," Roger says, "that you're protecting a vampire?"

"Yes, the thought did occur to me," Wesley says.

"And have you told it why?" Roger asks.

There's hesitation on Wesley's part then. Angel can see that it takes a lot for Wesley not to glance in his direction.

"Has he told you?" Rogers asks, looking at Angel now.

Angel shakes his head a little bit. "No."

"Don't you think you ought to?" Roger's attention is back on Wesley. "Don't you think it might like to know why you've gone to all this trouble?"

Worried now, Angel waits for reassurance.

"Don't you think it should be informed as to why you--"

Wesley cuts his father off then. "There's a prophecy," he says, his voice a little bit louder and clearer than it has been, authoritative. "Prophecies, if one wants to be specific. About a vampire with a soul."

Roger nods in a self satisfied kind of way. "There. You see?"

"You knew," Wesley continues, still looking at Roger. "You knew that he had a soul, and you still expected me to turn him back over to you so that you could experiment on him like... like an animal?"

"Vampires are animals," Roger says. "Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because this creature has a soul, it's no different from a human. It is. It's still nothing but a demon, soul or no soul."

Wesley's hand shakes a little bit, but otherwise he doesn't waver. "He's not a pawn in some bloody game," he spits out.

"Oh for God's sake, Wesley," Roger says impatiently. "Put that thing down before you get hurt."

Angel can't see Wesley's face, but he can imagine the tight, strained smile he's wearing when he says, "Have you forgotten what a good shot I am? Because I can assure you I haven't." And almost without looking he casually turns the gun to the side and pulls the trigger.

Roger's henchman, the one that had been standing closest to them, drops his gun, crying out and clutching his hand to his chest. There's blood -- Angel can see it as well as smell it -- but not really any way to tell how badly the man is hurt, even if his guess is not too badly. He knows from past experience that if they can still swear under their breath, they're not seriously wounded.

There are two more guns and two crossbows aimed at them now -- at Angel and Wesley. And Wesley's gun is pointed back at his father, which Angel is pretty sure is the only thing keeping the others from shooting them.

"Do you need another example?" Wesley asks, his voice deceptively smooth. "I'd be happy to provide one."

"You're not going to get away with this," Roger says. There's no fear there -- even though Wesley just shot one of his men, he's completely confident that he's in control of the situation.

"And yet I seem to be," Wesley says. "Angel, get in the car."

Angel starts to obey automatically, his body responding, but then he hears the click of something being cocked -- probably one of the guns, the sound has that little metal on metal click to it -- and, underneath it, another sound. A faint growl, familiar and fear inducing, and Angel stops, glances back, just before too much happens at once.

Three vampires move out of the shadows behind Wesley's father and the other men, two of them grabbing on to the men and the third sinking his fangs into one of the two unarmed humans. There's scuffling, and a heck of a lot less attention suddenly being paid to Angel and Wesley, and the sound of the first body hitting the pavement. As the second human starts to lower his weapon arm, the fangs of another vampire sunk into his throat from behind. Roger reaches out and plucks the gun from his hand neatly, turning and aiming it at Wesley and Angel like he expects his men to take care of the vampires that actually, from what Angel can see, have the upper hand.

It's Roger's look of disgust that clues Angel in, that tells him to step to one side fast as Roger pulls the trigger three or four times, the bullets that had been aimed at Wesley slamming into Angel's body instead.

Jesus, he thinks, as pain blossoms bright white and startling. Big bullets.

If he doesn't stay upright, he won't be able to protect Wesley, but there's nothing he can do. He collapses, feeling the blood running out of him.

He looks up in time to see Wesley pulling the trigger on his own gun, one round after another. Six, seven, eight. Nine.

A muffled thump as another body hits the pavement, and then everything goes dark.

* * * * *

Wesley does what he has to -- it's what he's always done, after all.

It's not necessary for him to kill the other Watchers and men that his father brought along with him -- the vampires take care of that. All Wesley has to do is wrestle Angel's limp and bleeding body into the back seat of his car -- admittedly a more difficult task than it sounds, what with the small but predictably-ending battle going on in the parking lot -- shut the doors, and get behind the wheel. Start to drive. And, most importantly, not let himself think. Not until later.

He doesn't get particularly far before he remembers that the sun will rise soon. He has to wait until he's driven several miles more to find a place that seems safe to stop, and he climbs between the front seats rather than chancing stepping outside. Standing awkwardly in a small space just to one side of Angel, he reaches for the blanket and begins to settle it over the vampire, who chooses that moment to groan and stir.

"It's all right," Wesley says.

Angel groans again. "Easy for you to say. You aren't the one who got shot." He sounds strangely confident, more secure than Wesley can recall hearing him.

"Easy for me to say, I'm the one who designed the bullets." Wesley bends lower and lays a hand on Angel's blood soaked shirt. "We need to get them out," he says, "but I'd really like to put some distance between us and here if we can. Even if they're all dead."

"You think there'll be more coming?" Angel asks, then he coughs and rolls to the side.

Wesley considers the question. His father, arrogant as he was, isn't likely to have created a back-up team. "I don't think so. But I'd still like to be somewhere at least moderately safe before we take the bullets out." He knows from previous experience how painful it's going to be for Angel, and he can't take the risk of being distracted while they're vulnerable.

"Okay." Angel pulls at the edge of the blanket himself, adjusting it, and Wesley gets back behind the wheel and begins to drive again.

The silence bothers him, in a way he can't remember it ever doing before. In general he's comfortable with silence, with his relatively solitary lifestyle -- which, he reminds himself, is no longer solitary -- but now, it feels oppressive. He can't help but wonder what Angel is thinking.

He drives another two hours north, changing direction a few times in case anyone might be anticipating their route. When the sun is high enough, he finds another cheap hotel, this one in somewhat better shape than the last. "We're stopping here," Wesley says, but there's no answer from Angel. He's not sure if the vampire is unconscious or just asleep.

He requests a quiet room, hoping that that means they'll be put far enough away from anyone else that Angel won't be overheard when the bullets are removed, and drives the car over, not bothering to lament the fact that they're likely to be seen as he struggles to get Angel inside. It won't change anything, after all. There's no point in worrying about things one can do nothing about.

Still, he takes his unzipped bag inside and leaves the door to the room open when he goes back to the car. One has to be practical.

"Angel?" Wesley shakes the vampire's shoulder gently, and Angel stirs and groans. "Come on. We need to get you inside."

"Okay," Angel says.

Between them, they manage to get him into the room and onto the bed, the second in their series of bloodstained covers the least of their worries. There's a small lock-blade in the interior pocket of Wesley's jacket, which will do as a surgical instrument. They're fortunate that there's no need to worry about infection.

"Can you take that off?" Wesley asks, gesturing at Angel's shirt as he heads into the bathroom, where there's a few individually wrapped disposable cups. He fills two of them with water and returns to the side of the bed, setting the cups and a hand towel down on the small table next to it and taking out the knife before shrugging out of his jacket.

Angel has managed to get the shirt unbuttoned, an effort that has gone to waste since, as an item of clothing, it's probably seen its last day. Wesley helps him slip it over his shoulders and off his arms.

"Leave it," Wesley says, when Angel would have lifted himself up to get the shirt out from under him. He rests his hand on Angel's quivering abdomen just below the lowest of the three bullet holes. "This is going to hurt," he warns, feeling responsible in more ways than one.

"I kind of figured that," Angel says. "It's okay -- just do it."

Wesley probes the lowest wound first, thinking that it's likely to be the most painful area. The bullet hasn't gone deep, and it's a matter of one quick slice of the knife before he reaches in amidst the flow of bright red blood and pulls it out, the metal twisted into a completely new shape between his fingers. Then he reaches for one of the cups of water and douses some into the wound.

Angel gives a strangled sort of cry, pressing his lips together immediately afterward as though this will keep any others from escaping. He's glassy eyed and shaking, and for the first time in several years, Wesley feels ill at the thought of someone else's pain.

He clamps down on the feeling -- it won't serve him here, will only make things worse -- and presses the towel to the freshly bleeding wound, soaking up the water and blood both.

"What the fuck was that?" Angel asks after a moment, his voice rough.

"A bullet?" Wesley says.

"I've been shot before," Angel says. "Dug the bullets out myself. This is different."

Wesley wonders if Angel has forgotten their earlier conversation. "I designed them," he says. It's more difficult the second time around. "There's a small reservoir containing holy water inside. They're the vampire equivalent of the baton rounds used in crowd control in Northern Ireland up until a few years ago -- completely different in form, of course, but similar in function. They aren't designed to kill a vampire, just to incapacitate it until it can either be taken captive or otherwise disposed of."

Angel blinks. "Oh. Yeah, I guess that explains it."

"We'll need to get you into the shower after this, in case there's any lingering," Wesley says. "All right, two more. Ready?"

"Yeah." Angel clenches his teeth as Wesley makes the cut, arches upward as Wesley's fingers scrabble inside him for the misshapen bullet, the slippery piece of metal difficult to get hold of. It requires a good ten seconds longer than it should have, but finally it's out, and Wesley douses the wound with the rest of the water in the first cup, then presses the towel down hard to absorb it.

Angel is panting, pained sounds, his face lined with tension.

"Only one left," Wesley says, having no idea if that sounds reassuring because he has all of his own emotions about this locked down tight where they can't interfere. "Tell me if you need a minute."

But Angel just shakes his head. "Do it."

This third bullet is the deepest, deceptively so because of the angle at which it entered. Wesley thinks it might have cracked a rib on its way in, but he has to concentrate now as blood wells thick in the cut he makes. Angel's fists clench in the blanket beneath him, Wesley staring at them blankly as the bullet slips away from his probing fingers again and again. There's a cold sweat on his skin, and his stomach flips then settles as he gets a grip on the chunk of metal at last and draws it out.

His hand is shaking as he reaches for the second cup of water with which to irrigate the wound.

"That's all," he says, his voice a bit unsteady as he applies pressure to the bleeding wound. "It's done."

Those little noises are still escaping Angel, but he opens his eyes and looks at Wesley, and then his hand comes up and covers Wesley's. "Thanks."

Suddenly feeling as if he's going to be ill, Wesley can only say, "Hold this here," before lurching to his feet and walking very carefully into the bathroom. With the sink in front of him, he manages not to retch by taking very long deep breaths through his nose until the feeling has passed, trying not to look when he washes his hands and the pink tinged water goes down the drain.

Wesley goes back out into the room and notices how bone-white Angel is, the red blood startlingly vivid against his pale skin.

He goes to get his bag, opening it up to retrieve the blood that's inside only to discover that it's no longer a viable option. Not only has one of the containers split open, oozing the stuff all over the interior of the bag and its contents, but it's gone off. He's not a vampire, but even he can tell.

This, Wesley thinks, is a problem, but not an insurmountable one, not yet.

Without a word to Angel, he takes the knife he's used on the vampire into the bathroom and washes it carefully. There's no point in attempting to sterilize it, considering where they are, but he doesn't care to take unnecessary risks either. He doesn't bother to dry the blade -- any cloth he might wipe it on is likely to contain more germs than the water does.

Sitting on the side of the bed, holding the knife carefully in his hand, Wesley says, "The blood we had with us isn't any good."

Angel's eyes are on his. "It's okay. I can wait."

"No. I don't think so." Wesley's voice is matter of fact. It's not an effort to make it that way. "You need to replace what you've lost, if you're going to heal."

"I can wait," Angel repeats.

It's not difficult to add a bit of harshness to his tone either. "I can't take the risk," he says. "I need you functional, not weak and injured." Wesley finds it easy to couch the issue in terms of what he himself needs, especially when he knows that Angel will bow more quickly to his wishes if the vampire thinks it's in Wesley's best interest. "We can use this, if you prefer." He holds up the knife so that Angel can see it.

"No," Angel says.

Wesley deliberately misunderstands. "Oh, good. Your teeth will do the job more efficiently."

"That's not what I meant," Angel says, "and you know it. I mean no, I'm not. Not going to do that." He's determined despite his condition.

"This isn't a discussion," Wesley says, using the words that worked before. "I'm not offering you a choice."

Something changes in Angel's eyes, the stubbornness fading a bit. "I don't..."

"I know you don't want it to be necessary," Wesley says. "But I also suspect that, yes, a part of you does want this, very much. I'm giving it to you willingly, Angel. I'm not a victim." That last word is carefully chosen as well.

A long silence, then Angel asks, "Are you sure?"

Wesley nods. "Yes. Where would be best? My arm? My throat?" He thinks that his arm would be the better choice strategically, as he'd have an easier time breaking Angel's grip if he needed to do so, but that a wound on his arm would also limit his movements. Each choice seems to have relatively equal benefits and drawbacks.

Angel lets go of the towel he's been holding to his torso all the time, letting it fall to the floor, and wipes his bloody hand on his torn shirt. "Come here," he says, gesturing for Wesley to lean in.

He only has to shift his position slightly in order to be able to do so comfortably, and to his surprise, the part of his body that Angel draws down to meet his mouth are his own lips. Angel kisses him. There's nothing erotic about it. It feels, in fact, like a thank you.

Then Angel tilts his head, and Wesley feels the dynamic change and the sharp prick of teeth against the tender skin of his throat.

He closes his eyes.

* * * * *

Angel groans against Wesley's throat as his teeth break through and the taste of blood fills his mouth. He hasn't forgotten how it tastes to drink from a living person, but this is so much more than all those other times. He wouldn't be able to put it into words, even if he was any good with them. This isn't just life -- it's consent.

He drinks very slowly, not encouraging the flow of blood, just letting it come naturally. He wants it to last as long as possible. There are so many sensations -- the pulsing of the blood, the feel of Wesley's breath making the skin flutter against Angel's lips, the clutch of Wesley's hand on his upper arm. He can feel his flesh knitting, the wounds a deep aching itch.

There's a small gasp when he pulls Wesley closer, not caring that it hurts, just needing to feel that human warmth against him. When he slides his hand up into Wesley's hair, Wesley moans softly, relaxes.

Angel takes another couple of long, slow swallows, then he pulls back, licking the wound gently as Wesley trembles in his arms. "You okay?"

"Yes," Wesley says. He shifts his weight and lies down next to Angel. They're both still for a while, then Wesley says, "I killed him." His breath is warm against Angel's shoulder.

Stretching his mind, trying to remember what happened, Angel rolls onto his side despite the pain, so he can see Wesley's face. "Killed who?"

Wesley makes a little sound. "My father."

Wesley's cheek is stubbled under Angel's palm. "He was going to shoot you," he points out.

"He tried to shoot me," Wesley corrects him. "And while there's a certain irony to the thought of being shot with the bullets I created... especially when the regular sort would do just fine, for a human..." He shakes his head, hiding whatever he's feeling a lot less successfully than he usually seems to.

"Hey," Angel says, moving his hand to take off Wesley's glasses, then reaching behind himself awkwardly to set them on the table. He wants to say something helpful. Too bad he has no idea what that might be. "Seems to me like he deserved what he got."

"Oh, he deserved it," Wesley says.

Angel waits until Wesley's eyes meet his before he says, "I'm sorry you had to be the one to do it."

There's a long pause, and then Wesley says, "I'm not."

Again, Angel waits. He can see that there's more Wesley needs to say, and he's afraid that if he does so much as try to encourage him, it won't happen.

Wesley's head is cushioned on his arm, his gaze far away, unfocused. "I've dreamt about killing him for years. I suppose it was always a bit more satisfying, in the dreams -- he had a tendency to gasp out apologies with his dying breath, for example."

"You didn't have a choice," Angel says. He has no idea if it's true, but it sounds good. He hopes.

"Of course I did," Wesley says, looking directly at Angel again. "People like to say that -- that they didn't have a choice -- but it's only because they're afraid of taking responsibility for their actions. I had a choice; I could have let him kill me and take you back to the laboratory. I could have agreed to turn you over to him. I could have wounded him to the point of unconsciousness and left him there." He swallows audibly. "I didn't do any of those things. I killed him."

It sounds like he's trying to talk himself into accepting it. Angel doesn't think that's a bad thing, so he nods. "I'm glad he didn't hurt you," Angel says.

"I'm sorry he hurt you," Wesley says.

Just looking at Wesley makes something inside of Angel untwist and relax. It's like he's a drug designed just for Angel, to make him feel safe and protected. "It was worth it," Angel says, leaning in with the intention of brushing his lips over Wesley's warm ones.

But Wesley pulls back, looking troubled. "No," he says. "Don't." He must be able to see that Angel is hurt by the rejection, because he lays a hand flat on Angel's chest, warming him. "I need to explain."

"Explain what?"

"Why I didn't tell you about the Prophecies of Aberjian." Wesley's voice is strained. "I just... I didn't know how to tell you without making it sound as if it was only about the role you're going to play."

He'd almost forgotten about the whole prophecy thing. "What kind of role?"

"The sort that gets written of in ancient sacred texts," Wesley says, seeming to have caught on now that Angel isn't upset. "A vampire with a soul, destined to survive the coming darkness and save the world." He glances over Angel's shoulder toward the wall with the window on it. "Although, time of day notwithstanding, I'd have to say I think the coming darkness is already here."

"Destined, huh?" Angel thinks that doesn't sound so bad, if it means maybe he's going to get through this.

Though on the other hand, there's probably no mention of whether or not Wesley makes it through too.

"Save the world? I guess it doesn't say anything helpful like how I'm supposed to do that."

"Not as such," Wesley agrees, his fingers brushing lower over the closing wounds on Angel's abdomen. He shivers at the touch -- it doesn't hurt exactly, but the skin is extra sensitive, like the nerves are still all out of whack. "Prophecies aren't meant to be an instruction manual. They don't tell one how to accomplish something -- just that one will. The how is part of the pattern, I suppose."

"The pattern?" Angel asks, a little bit distracted by the way Wesley's fingertips are trailing down the outside of his thigh.

Wesley nods. "Fate. If you believe in that sort of thing."

Watching his own hand curving over Wesley's shoulder, rubbing, Angel thinks about it. "So it's like... a guarantee? It doesn't matter what I do, because of this destiny thing?"

"If you believe in it," Wesley says cautiously.

"And you don't."

"I didn't say that," Wesley says.

"You didn't have to." Angel grins. "Let me guess -- it's not that simple, right?"

"Not nearly," Wesley says. His hand is still being distracting, making little circles over the small of Angel's back. "It doesn't mean you don't need to be careful. Prophecies aren't a science -- they're more like astrology. Guidelines. They aren't a guarantee -- they're one possible future in an infinite number of possible futures."

"Sounds like they're less 'prophecies' and more 'stuff someone pulled out of his ass'," Angel grumbles.

Wesley smiles, like he's trying not to but can't help it. "That's... an interesting theory," he says.

"Well, what good are prophecies if any little thing can screw them up?" He's not really upset about it -- he just likes seeing that smile on Wesley's face. "Maybe I should write some. Do you think prophecy writers get paid by the word?"

"Blasphemer," Wesley says, still smiling.

Angel leans in and kisses those curved lips, and this time Wesley doesn't pull away.

His gut aches, but Angel doesn't care about that. He just wants to kiss Wesley for as long as he can -- even if that's all day and through the night and the next day. As long as Wesley will let him. He knows there's something imperfect about this; not about Wesley, but about the fact that Angel thinks that Wesley is perfect. He knows it's got something to do with how fucked up he is, himself.

He doesn't care.

"You taste good," he murmurs, and he means Wesley's blood too, not just his mouth. Remembering the hot blood flowing makes him hard instantly.

Wesley kisses him back, hungry right from the beginning this time, which of course makes Angel want him all the more.

"Can I touch you? Tell me I can," Angel says, kissing the corner of Wesley's mouth.

"Yes," Wesley says, his own hand already running up along Angel's thigh to the front of his pants, rubbing at his cock, and Angel groans against Wesley's lips as his arousal soars.

He can't do what he wants -- not unless he wants to break his healing wounds open and bleed all over Wesley, which he kind of thinks might kill the mood -- so he has to settle for staying right where he is and dragging Wesley closer instead. He undoes the buttons on the front of Wesley's shirt slowly and carefully, which is stupid since the sleeve is already torn and stained with Wesley's own blood from the day before, and now the front of it has Angel's blood on it too. But hey, it's still the only one Wesley has. Might as well try to keep it mostly intact until they can replace it.

Angel's kisses are fiercer now, but he can tell by the way that Wesley is touching him and moving against him that it's fine. Better than fine. They both want this -- want each other -- and that might be all that matters.

At least Wesley's shirt is unbuttoned now, and it doesn't take long for Angel to get the front of his pants undone either, sliding his hand inside and closing his grip around that hot hard erection. He can feel the pulse flutter against his thumb, feel Wesley's stuttered gasp against his lips when he strokes gently.

Wesley fumbles with the front of Angel's pants, then he pauses, and there's a sound like the crinkle of heavy paper as he takes something from Angel's pocket. He stiffens and pulls back. Confused, Angel pulls back too, looking at Wesley's face and then down along his own body to what Wesley is staring at.

The row of photographs of Buffy and Wesley together-- taken from the desk drawer before he left the apartment, carefully folded in between frames and tucked into Angel's pocket for safekeeping -- is in Wesley's hand.

"I didn't... I..." Angel doesn't know what to say. He thinks from the look on Wesley's face that maybe he made a mistake in taking them. It wasn't that he wanted to hide them. Actually, he's not even sure if he could explain why he took them, but he thinks it was only partially for him. "I'm sorry," Angel says, pulling back even further, as far as he can without falling off the edge of the bed, not that that's far enough. "I just... I'm sorry."

Wesley manages to drag his eyes away from the photos. "No," he says gently. "No, I'm not upset."

Angel's pretty sure that's a lie, even though he's grateful for the reassurance. "Were you... did you love her?"

Smiling sadly, Wesley says, "Yes, I did. I wasn't meant to -- I was her Watcher; the last thing I was meant to do was fall madly in love with her -- but..."

Angel gets that Wesley isn't the kind of person who can admit to not being able to help himself. "I'm sorry," he says again. He means for every bad thing that's ever happened to Wesley in his life, even if at the same time he wouldn't ask for any of it to be taken back, because this is the version of Wesley he wants, not any other.

"Why did you take them?" Wesley asks.

"I don't know." Angel shrugs. He's not sure he can explain why he felt the need to. "Because I liked looking at them, I guess. You look... happy. I mean, serious, but happy."

Wesley nods, looking down at the photos again. "We were. Not all the time, of course, and she carried a heavy burden, being the Slayer... but we were happy."

Gently, Angel says, "Seems to me like the burden was yours too."

"It shouldn't have been," Wesley says. He runs his thumb over the photo. "I wasn't meant to get so attached, you see. An ideal Watcher would maintain an emotional distance so that his or her feelings wouldn't get in the way of making the hard decisions." He sounds like he's repeating something he's heard a lot of times.

"Is that what you had to do?" Angel asks, watching Wesley's face now for any hint of a clue. "Make a hard decision?"

Wesley seems to understand what he's asking. "No," he says, shaking his head. "No, her death was an accident. An ambush. A dozen vampires, and we were distracted, ill prepared... we killed most of them, and then while I was staking one she was grabbed from behind, her neck snapped. It happened so quickly... I don't think she felt much..." His eyes are wet with unshed tears, and Angel gets that he's supposed to pretend he doesn't notice. "Or maybe that's just what I want to think," Wesley says shakily.

Angel is still putting together all the pieces. "And your father blamed you."

"For her death?" Wesley shakes his head again. "No. But for having been involved with her... yes, absolutely."

"Because you loved her."

"Yes," Wesley says. "If it had merely been a physical relationship, it might have been overlooked -- similar arrangements certainly had been in the past."

Angel doesn't like what he sees, even with only this much of the picture complete. He takes the photos from Wesley's hand slowly, giving him time to protest, then he sets them behind him on the table next to Wesley's glasses.

"I'm sorry," Wesley says, obviously trying to apologize for showing a little bit of emotion. "I shouldn't -- "

"Yeah," Angel says, cutting him off. "Yeah, you should." And kisses him to forestall any other protests.

This time, nothing stops them -- no interruptions, no pauses. No talking, unless you want to count the occasional moan or whisper. They just take off the rest of their clothes and touch each other, and kiss, and Angel can smell the eagerness on Wesley just like he can hear it in the way his breath catches.

They don't have anything slick to make the way easier, and Angel doesn't want to chance hurting Wesley.

"Please," Wesley begs, squirming.

Angel has to remind himself that it's the good kind of begging, that Wesley wants this, isn't asking to be spared. "We can't," he says.

"It's fine," Wesley says. It's more a gasp than actual talking, and he brings two of Angel's fingers to his warm mouth, sucking on them. He lets them slide free from between his swollen lips and guides Angel's hand down between his legs, gasping even more sharply when Angel brushes his wet fingertips over Wesley's sensitive skin.

"I don't want to hurt you," he explains, but he eases one finger inside slightly.

Wesley squirms again. "I don't care," he says.

Angel moves and kisses him. "I do."

Wesley's eyes open slowly, like someone waking up. Or maybe -- and okay, it's possible that this is more what Angel wants to see than what's actually there -- like he's just falling asleep into a dream he's been looking forward to. "I... Angel. I -- "

His mouth is so fucking warm, Angel thinks, as they start kissing again. One of Wesley's hands is tangled in his hair, keeping him close, and for one instant Angel wants to not care -- wants to just roll Wesley over and push his way inside that heat, fuck him hard and fast.

But the realization of that instant makes Angel tremble. He'd pull away, but Wesley doesn't let him go. "No," Wesley says. "Shh... it's all right."

Somehow, it is. Maybe because Angel tells himself that it was just a thought -- that he'd never really do it, not to Wesley. Maybe just because Wesley tells him it is.

Angel slides his finger a little bit deeper, and Wesley moans.

"Yes. Angel..." Then Wesley pulls away, sliding down along Angel's body carefully to wrap his lips around the head of Angel's cock.

Part of him wants to tell Wesley not to do that -- he's not stupid, he knows that this has got to be the first time Wesley has -- but he quickly tells that part to shut up, because it's amazing. It doesn't matter that Wesley doesn't know what he's doing, that he's clumsy and awkward, not when his warm hand is sliding up the back of Angel's thigh to caress his ass. Not when his tongue is...

Wesley pulls away, and Angel groans in frustration at the loss. Gentle fingers touch his abdomen as Wesley looks up at him. "I want you to fuck me," he says, in his soft British voice. "Can you? Or will it disturb your healing?"

At that moment, Angel couldn't care less, but he knows Wesley does, so he runs his own hand down over his stomach. The new skin is fragile, the flesh tender, but he thinks it'll be okay. He hitches himself up onto one elbow. "Turn around," he says gently, guiding Wesley onto his hands and knees, a position that will be good for both of them, he hopes.

Angel gets onto his own knees behind Wesley and kisses along his spine before nudging the head of his cock, still slick with Wesley's saliva, into the right spot. Wesley pushes back to meet him with a little eager sound, and he slides in more easily than he would have thought, into that tight clenching heat.

He pauses for a few seconds before he really starts to move, just letting how incredible the moment is wash over him. The world might be even more fucked up than he'd realized, but... at least neither of them are alone. That has to count for something, right?

Then Wesley rocks his body back toward Angel again, forcing his cock just a little bit deeper, and Angel grabs onto Wesley's hips and starts to fuck him in long, steady strokes that make him forget about pretty much everything.

"God, Wesley," he says, not letting his grip tighten too much.

Wesley's head is down, his breath and heart rate rapid, rhythmic. Angel can smell his arousal, his sweat, and he pulls Wesley up onto his knees with one hand on the other man's chest so that he can lick the back of Wesley's shoulder, taste the salt there. His next thrust is harder, forcing a small grunt from Wesley. Angel's fingers find a taut nipple and pinch it, feel it tighten further at his touch.

He moves his other hand around to grasp Wesley's cock, and Wesley shudders in his arms. "Angel..."

Angel moves quicker, deeper, the angle perfect as Wesley shivers and groans and turns his head for a kiss that Angel is more than happy to give him. "Feel so good," he murmurs, letting the head of Wesley's cock slip wetly in his grip.

Wesley cries out when he pinches his nipple again, and his cock in Angel's hand throbs.

"That's it," Angel says encouragingly, thrusting again, then he remembers what Wesley said to him, the first time. "Just let it come."

And Wesley does, his entire body tightening as the orgasm ripples through him, the clench of hot muscles around Angel's own cock incredible and startling in their power.

Angel comes too, with his teeth not quite breaking through the skin of Wesley's shoulder, feeling the pulse of his release echoing Wesley's, his fingers slick with it. He groans as a last, unexpected wave rolls over him, holding Wesley tight to his chest and breathing in the scent of him, feeling the pounding of Wesley's heart throughout his own body.

After a minute or so, he reluctantly lets Wesley go, eases out of him and collapses down onto the mattress, pulling Wesley with him and into a loose embrace.

"Are you all right?" Wesley asks, stroking his chest.

"Yeah," Angel says, grinning. "Yeah, I'm good. What about you?" Suddenly concerned, he slides a hand down Wesley's back to cup his ass gently. "Was that... too rough?" God, if he hurt Wesley, he'll never forgive himself.

Wesley shakes his head. "No, I'm fine," he says, and leans in to kiss Angel again, then settles himself close, so that Angel can feel every exhalation against his skin.

"So what do we do now?" Angel asks.

"Do you mean immediately, or are you speaking in more general terms?" Wesley asks, his hand splayed flat on Angel's chest. "I was thinking a shower wouldn't be out of order."

"No, I meant generally," Angel says, nuzzling Wesley's hair. "You know, the whole prophecy thing."

"We keep moving. We do what needs to be done."

Angel pulls back so that he can see Wesley's face. "You don't have any idea, do you?"

Wesley's eyes widen in outrage for about two seconds, then his face softens and he smiles that totally transforming smile again, the one that Angel knows is going to make him fall in love. "No."

"That's okay," Angel says, reaching out to trace the little lines that curl up around Wesley's mouth. "We'll figure it out together."

 

 

End.